Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Liverpool General Transport Strike of 1911

LSHG Newsletter, 43 (Autumn, 2011)
PREFACE
I was privileged to attend an event commemorating the 1911 industrial action in Liverpool and the attacks on
workers by Churchill’s police and army. It was held at the Eldonian Village hall only yards from the spot on Vauxhall Road where two workers, John Sutcliffe and Michael Prendergast, were shot dead by soldiers on Tuesday 15 August 1911. These were tumultuous events which have virtually disappeared from the awareness of today’s generation.

Dockers, seamen, railway workers, tram workers and other sections were united in a mighty movement to secure improvements in wages, working conditions and trade union recognition which employers, particularly the ship owners, were determined to resist with all means at their disposal.

The organisers saw particular importance in recalling this moment in history in view of today’s relentless attack on workers’ services, wages, conditions and pensions by the ConDem millionaire ruling elite. It was through courageous leadership by Tom Mann and the strike committee that success was achieved in the teeth of outrageous Press headlines, and police batons and army rifles, backed by the threat of a gunboat despatched to the Mersey by home secretary Winston Churchill.

Speakers explained that workers’ action in 1911 stands as an example as to how to inspire and show leadership to working families under attack. The main initiators of this important event, Ron Noon, Sam Davies, Eddie Roberts and a number of dedicated supporters deserve to be congratulated on assembling detailed historical evidence, presenting it in a concise focused way, and providing irrefutable evidence as to the brutal injustice meted out to workers fighting for conditions which subsequent generations have taken for granted.

Today’s trade union and Labour leaders have a responsibility to fight to protect the achievements of those workers who struggled and died in 1911.

Tony Mulhearn
August 2011
Published in the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo


THE LIVERPOOL GENERAL TRANSPORT STRIKE OF 1911
[The following piece was produced by Ron Noon and Sam Davies for the North West TUC - see here:  www.tuc.org.uk/extras/1911generaltransportstrike.doc -  and is slightly abridged for publication here].
Half a century ago Harold Hikins, an eminent local librarian and historian analysed the “complicated and tremendous movement which convulsed Merseyside” in June, July and August of 1911, “an interwoven complex of several strikes involving at one time or another every section of transport workers in the port and culminating in a general strike of all sections”.[1]

In this brief introduction to the most seminal year in Liverpool trade union and labour history, the intention is not to detail the chronology and causes of that unrest, but to highlight this comprehensive fact. Seamen, ships’ stewards, catering staff, dock labourers, carters, tugboatmen, coalheavers, cold storage men, boiler scalers, railwaymen, tramwaymen, electric power station workers and scavengers were all involved in actions that placed class solidarities above sectional and indeed sectarian loyalties. Women as well were involved – women workers at Mayfield sugar works, tailoresses, workers at the rubber works in Walton that was to become Dunlops, all went on strike in 1911, and the National Union of Women Workers succeeded in
organising increasing numbers of women throughout the year.

It would be distressing to think that in a year indelibly stained by government obsession with Comprehensive Spending Reviews and reducing the deficit through cuts in public expenditure, that no major efforts are made by public historians and labour activists to interrogate and publicise the many lessons in worker solidarity that made 1911 a coruscating example of how “The Union makes us strong”.

It was a year of industrial conflagration which according to the journalist Phillip Gibbs saw “Liverpool as near to a revolution as anything I had seen in England”. As Eric Taplin brings to light in a book bearing that title, the efforts of the Strike Committee set up in June and chaired by the eloquent socialist Tom Mann, but inspired by rank and file activism and spontaneity, were an undeniable success and “all except the tramwaymen secured concessions, some of a significant nature”.[2]

It was not simply major increases in union membership that resulted, but also the extent to which they registered amongst the previously unorganised and unrecognised. This chagrined the hard nosed shipping employers who hitherto preferred the lockout and the strategically positioned “depot ships” full of scabs, to defeat the seamens’ and dockers’ efforts to improve work conditions and pay. The latter two groups were the heart and soul of the Liverpool working class and Margaret Simey’s comment that “this was a port, a great port, and ominously nothing but a port” made Liverpool such a particular place in its culture and ethos, as well as its employment statistics. Tony Lane suggests this was “almost as true in 1961...as it had been in 1901”, stressing a recurring theme of “Liverpool exceptionalism” and a far from parochial labour and trade union history.

Liverpool’s merchandise was never just about commodities and the contents of ships’ holds, but about people and ideas, about music and movement and the cosmopolitan exchange of cultures as well as things. Fifty years ago when Hikins was himself looking back half a century to Liverpool’s waterfront struggles, the links with the sea and “other places” were very much part of our city’s “social character mask”, a fact that “four mop tops” were keenly aware of in forging their own groundbreaking musicality, a year before the release of Love me Do!

Invariably there has been a national and international dimension to Liverpool history and what happened in 1911 was one of the most serious and prolonged disputes of Britain’s pre-First World war labour unrest,
provoking the civil authorities to bring in police reinforcements and for the Home Secretary Winston Churchill to send in troops and position the gunboat HMS Antrim in the Mersey! Although this strike action was part of a national wave of unrest in the transport industry, the degree of bitterness and the intensity of the conflict especially after August 13th and “Bloody Sunday”, was without parallel elsewhere.

A remarkable socialist stonemason and poet, Fred Bower, had his autobiography published in 1936, (a remarkable achievement in itself), providing an excellent contemporary view of what really happened on Sunday August 13th 1911 on St George’s Plateau, when the police baton-charged a mass union meeting.
It also contained an enigmatic chapter entitled “The Secret in the Foundation Stone” which is no secret anymore and which we argue resonates loudly not only in relation to a growing sense of resentment amongst
working people because of the ostentation and conspicuous consumption of the rich in the Edwardian period, but also in today’s world of generalised insecurity for the havenots and largesse for the haves who are getting richer faster than the poor are getting less poor! Regrettably, there are too many people going around the streets and bars of our former European Capital of Culture, fully conscious of the legacy of the Beatles but deeply unconscious of the inspirational stories of 1911 and of what Fred Bower buried under the massive Anglican Cathedral’s foundation stone in June 1904. It was a time capsule and in it he articulated socialist hopes and ambitions for a better tomorrow. Fred and his pal Jim Larkin, (earlier, in their “infantile ignorance” they had tried to kill each other over religion), were aware that “no more than a stone’s throw away” from the cathedral site were slums “not fit for swine” and decided to conduct their own covert ceremony three weeks before the King and Queen and 7,000 other Liverpool dignitaries orchestrated the official foundation stone ceremony. They placed a letter addressed to a future socialist society, (signed “A wage slave”), along with copies of the Clarion and Labour Leader in a biscuit tin, “bent over the ends and edges to make it as air tight as possible” and then positioned it “between two courses of bricks”. Fred laid it in the foundations on June 27th, and two days later he “sailed from Liverpool on the White Star liner Baltic on her first trip across the Atlantic, and on July 19th 1904, King Edward VII duly did his bit, and laid the foundation stone over my documents”.

In reconstructing Bower’s life and times, (born in Boston Massachusetts in 1871 but reared in Liverpool), the essential context is of two parallel worlds reflecting polarised inequalities of income and wealth, a tale of
two Liverpools, the famous metropolis described as “the New York of Europe”, spawning more millionaires than any other city outside of London, and the tarnished former Slave city, that contained slums and underground dwellings, more like Gateways to Hell for the brutalised and casualised poor that inhabited them. On top of that, religious sectarianism and “intra-class conflict” was more bitter and chronic than anywhere else except Belfast.

So it was unsurprising that Liverpool was described by a union official as “an organiser’s graveyard” and bouts of underemployment and unemployment were structured into the very fabric of work and community life. The blight of casualism and hiring and firing practices that treated men like sheep, was rife here because Port employers secured only “marginal advantages from regularity, reliability, sobriety, or other virtues of work discipline”, precisely the kind of advantages, regular and constant employment made obtainable in the great rival city of Manchester. A cheap and elastic supply of unskilled labour had its obvious advantages to Liverpool employers with their strong anti-trade union sentiments, but long standing grievances of low pay and irregular work make it easy to understand how the passion of workers was so aroused by 1911. (Flexible or “contingent” labour are the euphemistic terms used today to camouflage the fact that the blight of low quality irregular employment persists.)

That passion and resentment was first manifested by seamen in June when both of their hitherto very weak unions, Havelock Wilson’s National Sailors and Fireman’s Union and Joe Cotter’s Union of Ships’ Stewards, Cooks, Bakers and Butchers, acted in concert, and with the sympathetic support of dockers and other port workers, helped bloody the Shipping Federation’s nose. Dockers followed their lead in the battle for recognition of Jim Sexton’s National Union of Dock Labour and by early August not only had the two seafarers unions been recognised and wages enhanced but so too had the NUDL, helped by sympathy strikes of seamen.

There was a national context of unrest on the railways but it was the railwaymen of Liverpool, inspired by the successes of the waterfront workers, who took the initiative in pursuit of national demands for increased wages and reduced hours. Their strike on 7th August was given added clout by co-option onto the local strike committee and the commitment made that all transport workers would lend their support to them. The Liverpool virus of sympathetic action was alarming to the authorities both locally and nationally and when Tom Mann’s strike committee planned a monster demonstration at St George’s Plateau in support of the
railwaymen, troops and extra police were rapidly drafted into the city. Although it was a peaceful sunny day in a very hot summer, the ratcheting up of worker resentment to the police, particularly those drafted in from Birmingham and Leeds, was potentially explosive.

This is what Fred reports from “my wagon, facing the great St George’s Hall”:

August 13th, 1911 was an eventful day in the history of Liverpool…On this Sunday…as the gaily decked banners, carried aloft by brawny arms, led each contingent of workers from the outskirts of the city, with their union buttons up and headed by their local officials with music, it seemed good to be alive…From Orange Garston, Everton and Toxteth Park, from Roman Catholic Bootle and the Scotland Road area, they came. Forgotten were their religious feuds, disregarded the dictum of some of their clericals on both sides who affirmed the strike was an atheist stunt. The Garston band had walked five miles and their drum-major proudly whirled his sceptre twined with orange and green ribbons as he led his contingent band, half out of the Roman Catholic, half out of the local Orange band…What matter to them that all the railway stations in the town showed boarded up gates? What matter to them, that from the windows and roof of St George’s Hall opposite, could now and again be seen the caps of a British Tommy? Never in the history of this or any other country had the majority and might of the humble toiler been so displayed. A wonderful spirit of humour and friendliness permeated the atmosphere. It was glorious weather…All was going well, no signs of trouble, when a well organized mass…ranged round the Plateau and surrounding approaches, all in their Sunday best, and many of them with their women folk with them, were set upon and brutally battered.

186 people were hospitalised as a result of the police charge, and 95 were arrested in the disturbances that followed on the streets of north Liverpool that night. Fred’s eye witness account is all the more important
because police brutality and overreaction to what had been planned as a peaceful protest was brushed under the carpet by deliberate censorship and excision of records:

At one end of the Plateau during the meeting the Pathe picture people had set up a machine and the operator was busy taking a moving picture of the monster demonstration. When the police started the bother and the crowd were hurrying to escape the batons, the operator kept on working. When the crowd dispersed he got
away with his negatives. Had they been publicly exposed there would have been an outcry of indignation throughout the land at the brutality displayed. The Plateau resembled a battlefield, disabled and wounded men, women and children, lying singly and in heaps over a vast area. The picture was privately shown to a few of the prominent Labour leaders and speakers but the Liverpool authorities and the Government warned the Pathe people that they were not to show the picture in public, ‘or else’.

In the week following Bloody Sunday, Liverpool and the whole of Britain was poised on the edge of catastrophe. The railway strike, which had been started by rank and file action in Liverpool, had been declared official by four of the five railway unions, the first national railway strike in history (the Railway Clerks Association had an official no-strike policy at the time, but its members still refused to cover any work of the strikers). The docks had been closed after the employers had declared a lock-out. Movement of goods across the country was almost impossible without police or military intervention. Even within cities,
goods could not be moved as carters went on strike, and permits issued by Strike Committees were the only guarantee of the peaceful movement of food and other essential supplies.

The government response was to pledge unprecedented police and military reinforcements in support of the rail owners, to try and keep the rail system moving. More than 50,000 troops were mobilised across the country, and police were despatched wherever the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, thought they were most needed. Brutal force was employed. In Liverpool, troops opened fire on civilians in Great Homer Street after rioting spread through the north end of the city on the evening of Bloody Sunday. Similar shootings took place the following night, and then on Tuesday, August 15th, the most tragic events occurred.

That Tuesday evening, a convoy of vans, containing prisoners who had been arrested on Bloody Sunday, was despatched to Walton Gaol. It was accompanied by thirty-two soldiers of the 18th Hussars, on horseback and fully armed with rifles (loaded with live ammunition), bayonets, pistols and sabres, as well as a magistrate carrying a copy of the Riot Act, and a number of mounted police. A disturbance occurred on Vauxhall Road and, before the Riot Act had even been read, the troops opened fire, injuring five civilians, two fatally. John W. Sutcliffe, a twenty year old Catholic carter, was shot twice in the head virtually on his own doorstep, on the corner of Hopwood Street. Michael Prendergast, a twenty-nine year old Catholic docker, was shot twice in the chest a short time later, on the corner of Lamb Street.

This might aptly be described as Liverpool’s “Bloody Tuesday”. Five days later, on Saturday 19th August, two more unarmed civilians were shot by troops in Llanelli. These are the last occasions in history when British soldiers have killed civilians on the streets of mainland Britain. As with the events of Bloody Sunday, there was a determined effort by Churchill and the government to whitewash these events. No public enquiry was held, despite widespread calls for one from people in Liverpool and Llanelli, and from the TUC and the wider labour movement. Parliament adjourned on the 22nd of August, despite the protests of Labour MPs, so further questions could not be raised there while the events were still fresh in everyone’s mind. Churchill himself personally ensured, as Home Office files reveal, that minimum publicity was given to the court-martial of one soldier in Llanelli who had refused to open fire on the civilian crowd and had deserted on the spot. Very little attention has been given since to these outrageous state-sponsored killings, and one of the aims of the centenary events is to redress this injustice.

It is also worth noting how critical the situation had become by the end of that bloody week in August 1911. The police and military forces were stretched to the limit, not only in Liverpool but across the country. The Birmingham policemen who had earlier been despatched to Liverpool, for instance, were now urgently required in their home town as the strike intensified there. With the ports closed and the railways severely curtailed, it was getting increasingly hard to move soldiers or policemen around the country.

When troops arrived in Birmingham, they had been forced to march 40 miles to get to a train that could move them into the city. Aside from the fatal shootings, rioting broke out across the country as police and troops tried to move goods, in Chesterfield, Lincoln, Stafford, Sheffield and many other towns. When soldiers were beginning to desert rather than shooting their fellow-workers, the government’s control of the situation was truly shaken. Churchill himself, in parliament on August 22nd, stated that “a continuation of the railway strike would have produced a swift and certain degeneration of all the means, of all the structure, social and economic, on which the life of the people depend.”

 It was in the context of this growing crisis, “near to revolution” indeed, that Lloyd George persuaded Churchill and the Prime Minister, Asquith, to do an abrupt about-face and call in the railway owners to force them to come to a swift settlement with the railway unions. Finally, one of the lessons for 2011 and hopefully a way of redressing the historical amnesia referred to earlier would be to take a fresh look around St Georges Hall, the Parthenon of Northern Europe, and let our historical imaginations run free. It was after all, here on this site in 1911 that the events described by Fred Bower happened and people like you and I lived and breathed. Just like today they had their own grievances, dreams and ambitions and to paraphrase a famous nineteenth-century historian, once on that very familiar Plateau “walked other men and women as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone like ghosts at cockcrow”. Early dawn is a while away for many of us, so why not allow our North West TUC festival and celebration of 1911 Liverpool, to open up a portal to a world that is not lost and which can plug lessons in solidarity and struggle back into the present?

Why not act out the sage advice of the American writer William Faulkner, who defiantly declared that “the past is not dead, it is not even past”! As long as there are extraordinary ordinary lives and stories to
uncover, like that of Fred Bower whose secret in the stone is no secret anymore, or those of John Sutcliffe and Michael Prendergast, whose deaths will no longer be forgotten, the dead live on and we can at least preserve the inspirational story of those men and women who not only built the trade union and labour movement in this city but shaped and patterned our edgy and quirky culture.

Notes:
1 H.R.Hikins, “The Liverpool General Transport Strike 1911”, Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, Vol: 113, p.169
2 Eric Taplin, Near to Revolution: The Liverpool General Transport Strike of 1911 (1994)

APPENDIX ONE – CHRONOLOGY OF THE STRIKE

The chronology of the strike is complex but Eric Taplin gives a clear outline:

June 14 to August 4 – the seamen came out on strike followed by catering staff and stewards. That unity amongst the two seamens’ unions National Seaman’s and Fireman’s Union (NSFU) and the union formed in 1909, the National Union of Ships’ Stewards, Cooks, Bakers and Butchers to represent the stewards, was impressive. (The throwing away of that “sectionalism” was even commented upon in the Daily Post.)
Hitherto stewards had been inclined to draw a certain social distinction between themselves and the men at work on the deck and in the stokehold...This condition of things has, however, been revolutionised in twenty four hours, and for the first time in the history of the Port of Liverpool, yesterday saw ‘all hands’ throwing sectionalism to the winds and joining hand in hand for the furtherance of a common cause. It was a remarkable - even an historic – event in trade union progress.

A strike committee was formed chaired by Tom Mann, consisting of representatives of the unions involved and of the Liverpool Trades Council. The North End non-union dockers now demanded recognition of the NUDL and union rates of pay and conditions. They flocked to join up and the coalheavers who had their
own unions followed suit. To help overcome the Shipping Companies reluctance the seafarers struck again in sympathy with the dockers. Employees were permitted to wear union badges and a conference was arranged to hammer out a permanent settlement with the union culminating with the publication of the White Book Agreement on 4th August. It was a major victory for the union and “the dockers union - and the two searfarers’ unions – were fully recognised and wages were enhanced”. The “victory” in respect of dockers and seamen was a little different in that the latter’s was less complete, but “the stranglehold exercised by the Shipping Federation was broken and some of its more objectionable practices abandoned”. The sting in the tail for the dockers was the NUDL now having to agree continuity of work while any dispute was being resolved.

August 7-25 This next phase had a great deal to do with the railwaymen of Liverpool who struck on August 7th demanding reduced hours and increased wages. There was of course a national context of unrest on the railways but now locally railwaymen were coopted onto the strike committee and it was agreed that all transport workers would support them through sympathetic action. This was when the shipping employers lost all patience with the dockers, especially only a few days after the White Book agreement had been signed and consequently they demanded that its terms be honoured and that union members would remain at work. If not all cargo operations in the Port of Liverpool would cease on August the 14th and the men would be locked out. Matters were brought to a head on August 13th when a monster demonstration took place at St George’s Plateau, organised by the strike committee in support of the railwaymen. Up until then violence had been minimal which given the huge numbers of workers involved and numbers of police was impressive, but from this Bloody Sunday onwards, after the authorities had panicked and allowed police to baton charge the crowds to clear the Plateau, attitudes hardened and the relationship between the police and public deteriorated.

Bloody Sunday was “a symbol of the intolerance of an apprehensive civil authority towards peaceful mass demonstrations”. No one had been killed but 350 people were treated in hospital and the resentment towards the imported police from Leeds and Birmingham was considerable. The growing tension had already resulted in the movement of soldiers of the 2nd Warwickshire Regiment to Seaforth Barracks. So after Bloody Sunday Liverpool came to a standstill, two thousand more troops were rushed to the city and the shipowners carried out their threat to close down cargo operations. That affected 15000 men and the strike committee called for a General Strike. According to the Daily Post and Mercury (15th August) some 66,000 workers responded. From this time on goods could only be transported under heavy military escort and it was the strike committee that decided on the carriage of goods by the issue of permits. A national railwaymens’ strike began on the 17th and lasted three days before the railway companies were persuaded to meet union representatives to discuss grievances. Also on August 17th the tramwaymen struck work followed by Corporation electric power station workers and scavengers. That said, it was the resolution of the railwaymen’s dispute at national level that heralded the end of the local transport strike and the dockers finally returned to work on the 25th following negotiations between the NUDL and the shipping companies. The tramwaymen had been dismissed for striking and it was only when the strike committee threatened to bring out all transport workers again that the Corporation Tramways Committee agreed to reinstatement. That tardy process was not finally completed until December.

APPENDIX TWO: FRED BOWER AND THE SECRET UNDER THE STONE
Fred’s account of his letter to a better world:

I visited my pal, the long, raw-boned boy, now a man, Jim Larkin at his house. We who wanted to kill each other in our infantile ignorance had both joined the local Socialist Party and were the best of comrades. He got a piece of tin and compressed a copy each of the Clarion and the Labour Leader of June 24th, 1904, into it. I wrote the following short hurried note:

To the Finders, Hail!
We, the wage slaves employed on the erection of this cathedral, to be dedicated to the worship of the unemployed Jewish carpenter, hail ye! Within a stone’s throw from here, human beings are housed in
slums not fit for swine. This message, written on trust-produced paper with trustproduced ink, is to tell ye how we of today are at the mercy of the trusts. Building fabrics, clothing, food, fuel, transport, areall in the hands of money mad soul destroying trusts. We can only sell our labour power, as wage slaves, on their terms. The money trusts today own us. In your own day, you will, thanks to the efforts of past and present agitators for economic freedom, own the trusts. Yours will indeed, compared to ours of today, be a happier existence. See to it, therefore, that ye, too, work for the betterment of all , and so justify your existence by leaving the world the better for your having lived in it. Thus and thus only shall come about the Kingdom of “God” or “Good” on Earth.
Hail, Comrades, and – Farewell.
Yours sincerely,
‘A Wage Slave’

“You may say he’s a dreamer” but he was not the only one then, and he’s not the only one, now, as this comment from Paul Mason makes very clear:

That message still lies where it was buried. It was addressed to the kids in combat trousers protesting outside a Nike store in Seattle, to the rake-thin teenagers sewing trainers in Cambodian sweatshops and to
migrant cleaners resting their exhausted heads against bus windows as dawn breaks in London. Few of us can imagine what that message cost to write, in terms of hardship and self-sacrifice. Or the joy experienced on those rare days when the downtrodden people of the world were allowed to stand up and breathe free.
[Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class went Global (2008) p.xv.]

APPENDIX THREE: FRED BOWER AND THE S.S. BALTIC
Fred’s autobiography Rolling Stonemason (1936) vividly illustrates Fred’s fascinating encounter on the SS Baltic with a banker who was the owner of one of the biggest ‘money trusts’ of the day, a man who formed the United States Steel Corporation, the first billion dollar company in the world. The baggage of John Pierpont Morgan was in different quarters to Fred’s, who relished the opportunity to elaborate on a “Ragged
Trousered Philanthropists” theme!

APPENDIX FOUR: CASUALISM ON LIVERPOOL DOCKS
On the 14th of June 1911, at the North End docks in Liverpool, 500 firemen refused to ‘sign on’ for the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) boat Empress of Ireland, and the White Star’s Teutonic and Baltic. [Harold Hikin p.172] 27 years after the Baltic’s first crossing to New York, there was a headline in the Liverpool Daily Post. “STAMPEDE FOR WORK: 2,000 men for 500 jobs at Mersey Dock”
More than 2000 workers stampeded for work at the Gladstone dock yesterday when the White Star liner Baltic was the first big liner with a huge cargo to arrive for more than a week, and the prospect that additional overtime would be required to enable the vessel to make a quick turn around so that she would be able to leave on Saturday attracted a record number of dockers. The men began to form up before the vessel reached the landing stage and by one o’clock about 2,000 dockers waited to be picked up for duty. Only about 500 were required, however, and when the foreman appeared and called out certain men, the crowd stampeded. Police reinforcements were called and the stand was reformed while a further batch of men was chosen, but the ranks broke again and the foremen postponed the signing on till later in the day when the men were taken on and the work proceeded.

POSTSCRIPT:
The playwright Dennis Potter suggested that the trouble with words is that “you will not always know whose mouths they have been in before”! What ought we to make of a modern variation on “the blight of casualism”, Flexible labour? To paraphrase an academic expert on Globalisation, Zygmunt Bauman, “The idea of ‘flexible labour’ denies in practice what it asserts in theory...In order to implement what it recommends it must deprive workers and their unions of that agility and versatility which it exhorts them to acquire, so as to raise the enterprise’s profits and productivity”. People are made subaltern to profit and “Employer flexibility” often means “rigidity” for workers and their families. In this era of public expenditure cuts, downsizing, outsourcing, leveraged buyouts, and contingent or flexible employment, workers and their unions must never relinquish “the power to be truly ‘flexible’” in pursuit of our own collective and solidaristic goals. That is the real lesson and inspiration of 1911 when masses of workers stood up proud and breathed free “for the betterment of all”.

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