London Socialist Historians Group
Press Release 26TH February
Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266
Conference reviews historical lessons of riots
A well attended conference at the Institute of Historical Research in London on Saturday, organised by the London Socialist Historians Group, reviewed some historical lessons of riots in the context of recent events in the UK, Greece and elsewhere.
Conference organiser Dr Keith Flett opened proceedings by noting that the Riot Act had been abolished in 1973 and historians themselves had tended to see riots as purely historical matters. Recent events had challenged that and he noted that inquiries into the UK riots of August 2011 had lacked an historical perspective. The aim of the conference was to revisit and review historical approaches to the riot.
Sean Creighton spoke on the Trafalgar Square riots of 1887 one of which saw the death of Alfred Linnell a friend of William Morris. He emphasised that the police had played a key role both in terms of provoking riotous behaviour and, on occasion, by lack of numbers in allowing for smashing of windows and looting in London’s West End. He went on to note that several of those who had led the rioting went on to become notable figures in subsequent Liberal Goverments- such as Battersea MP John Burns-and acted to relax rules on protest in the Square.
Neil Davidson spoke about riots around the 1706 Scottish Union negotiations and noted that the political character of the rioting meant parallels fitted better with Greece 2012 than the UK in 2011. He argued that rioters who were opposed to Union achieved economic concessions but were ultimately concerned politically about where a successful attempt to block the 1707 Treaty would lead.
John Newsinger shifted the focus to Chicago and to the Memorial Day Massacre police riot on May 30 1937 in which ten people involved in the ‘Little Steel Strike’ demanding the right to picket were shot and killed by police. Discussion focused on the role of official violence in preventing radical and trade union organisation bringing an understanding that authority could riot as well as those opposed to it
LSHG Convenor Dr Keith Flett, said this conference of research historians represented as it should work in progress. It reflects the fact that riots whether from below or above are not just something for the history books. The detail of why people riot, what authority does and what the impact is, are very much ones for the present day.