The General Strike: 100 years on Manx workers still face struggle

News from Mannin Branch of the Celtic League:

This year 2018 is the centenary of the General Strike in the Isle of Man. Mec Vannin is trying to ensure that its significance is properly marked and interest government and organisations to that end.

Alistair Kneales Transceltic blog gave a good background on the Strike and the events leading up to it and the fallout thereafter.

Here’s the link:

http://www.transceltic.com/manx/manx-general-strike-1918

I say that the strike was significant but we should not overstate its impact because as Kneale avers in his account several strike leaders were forced to leave the Island in its aftermath. In fact you could say it made some in the Manx Labour movement but destroyed others and there was a bitterness left by that. There was to be no ‘New Jerusalem’ in the Isle of Man for workers and the failure of the later General Strike in the UK for workers compounded matters.

The main Union in Mann prior to 1929 seems to have been ‘The Workers Union’ which from my research (I visited the TGWU HQ at Smith Square in the early 80s) was possibly a Syndicalist organisation rather than simply wedded to ‘British Socialism’. In any case its membership collapsed across the UK, Ireland and the Isle of Man in the 1920s and the remaining 100,000 members merged with the TGWU in 1929.

Thereafter the TGWU became the most significant Union in terms of numbers until recent years. The oldest remaining IOM Trade Union is the Government Officers Association (GOA) now Prospect which dates from the early 1920s.

While workers in key areas such as utilities, docks, bakers etc were well organised the treatment of working people outside those areas in the 1920-30s was in many instances little different from that which foreign workers get from gang masters these days. There was work when you were needed and then only if your face fitted. Matters were compounded by factionalism in the TGWU in the 1930s that would have an echo fifty years later.

Manx employment legislation post the strike was draconian best epitomised by the 1936 Trade Disputes Act a slim but lethal tome still in use until the mid eighties – indeed I was served an injunction under it as a Union official.

Significant change occurred from the late seventies/early eighties and rightly or wrongly I would ascribe its origins to three strikes in Electricity Supply, the Water Industry and lastly and most significantly Petroleum delivery (tanker) drivers.

These events catalysed other workers to engage in a bitter struggle that lasted a decade and a half from 1980-95 shook the Islands administration and prompted the Government to enact a series of items of Social legislation. The latter commissioned by the Walker government were promoted as ‘balanced’ although many would argue the ‘balance’ towards workers only came much later and is still deficient.

Strangely I was only talking recently to several people involved in those days of struggle in the 1980s and the general consensus amongst us all was that (particularly in the past five years) things are going backwards for Manx working people. They are again starting to be seen as a commodity as they were in the 1920s.

2018 may be the anniversary of the General strike but a new dawn for workers did not come after 1918 and indeed some of the old battles of the past 100 years seem set to be staged again!

Bernard Moffatt
pp Celtic League

29/01/18

 

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