Hull’s 1911 Strikes

Report on meeting held 30th November 2015

Prior Rick Hudson welcomed the many members who had turned up despite a thoroughly wet day. He then introduced the speaker, Malcolm Scott. Malcolm has a degree in Modern History and Politics and taught local history courses in Hull and the East Riding. Malcolm’s talk was entitled, “Hull’s 1911 Strikes”.

He began by setting the scene. During the Edwardian era Britain experienced an economic boom. Workers felt they were not benefitting as they should, and a series of national strikes took place by different industry groups. In Hull the dockers, the largest employment group, and the seamen led the way. Both were casual workers, the seamen were employed per trip and the dockers by the day. Hull was Britain’s third biggest port at the time but much of the trade was via the Baltic Sea which froze up in winter, so affecting employment opportunities. Later, railway workers also struck. The speaker showed one photograph of yeomanry protecting Victoria Dock, and another of armed policemen guarding a local railway tunnel.

By the summer, women workers were also striking, although not those employed at Reckitts were working conditions were relatively good and the management caring. The speaker suggested that the good summer weather may also have played its part. Temperatures in Hull reached a staggering 110 degrees F (43 degrees C).

Malcolm explained that employers were keen to get workers back to work and towards the end of the year most strikes were settled. But this was not before new phenomena began. School children went on strike on a national scale. They had seen their parents improve their conditions and wanted better conditions for themselves. At the start of the autumn term they walked out of school. This was a national movement. In Dundee 1500 children were involved. They wanted better teaching and less corporal punishment. Being in school was not a comfortable or enjoyable experience for them.

The school leaving age was 13, and so these were young children. Malcolm showed a photograph of one group marching with banners. He said that in Hull the schools in the east of the city were most affected, the area where most of the dockers lived. The school strikes and marches were peaceful and considered as a bit of a giggle. However the Hull press did report that one group was charged by a policeman on a bicycle intent on dispersing them.

The strike by schoolchildren was a one month wonder. Most were back in school by the end of September with no real improvement in conditions. Malcolm did wonder though if these events did spark a political awareness in the children which resulted in the unionised period of industrial unrest which began after the Second World War.

The vote of thanks was given by Bro John Gatenby. He thanked the speaker for a thought provoking talk. He had noticed a Humber Keel on one of the union banners at the rally in Paragon Square and wondered which group this banner might represent.