Strike caused chaos for people of Halifax

Station Approach, Halifax, early 20th Century
Station Approach, Halifax, early 20th Century

Recently, members of the the A.S.L.E.F. and R.M.T. unions working for First TransPennine Express took industrial action.

Some things never seem to change.

Exactly one hundred years ago the country was paralysed by the first National Rail Strike in Britain’s history.

What were its causes? The rail workers had plenty of grievances. Wages were stagnant or falling, and prices of basic goods were rising sharply.

At the time, a third of railway workers were paid less than £1 per week. Even a miner could expect 32 shillings (£1.60).

It has been estimated that two thirds of rail workers worked for 60 or more hours a week, and most of the others, 72 hour. Overtime was compulsory, but not necessarily waged.

The work was dangerous too – in the ten years from 1897 more than 5,000 were killed, and nearly 150,000 injured in industrial accidents.

How did the strike affect Calderdale? Here are a few examples. At Brighouse on August 17, Albert Dyson, secretary of the Brighouse branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, received a message from colleagues in Lancashire, which read “Your liberty is at stake. All railway men must strike at once. Loyalty to each other means victory;” he promptly called out the men engaged in the goods yard at Brighouse Station.

The following day passenger traffic to and from Halifax Railway Station was almost entirely suspended. At the now-vanished Pellon Station, men who arrived for work were hindered by demonstrators and decided not to cross the picket-line.

A well-attended meeting of railway workers at the Friendly and Trades Club resulted in resolutions being passed, endorsing the strike. There was much unrest in the streets, with frequent demonstrations, particularly around railway premises.

Many residents had their travel plans thrown into chaos.

Perishable goods which normally arrived by rail were hard to come by, and local industry suffered from lack of transport.

Unsurprisingly, for several days feelings ran very high and much anger was expressed. Extra police were required on duty and had to deal with unpleasant scenes.

It was not until Sunday 27 that an agreement was reached nationally and the strike was finally over. The first train for several days arrived in Halifax station that afternoon.

On August 26, the Courier carried a selection of “Stranded Holiday Makers’ Stories.” Very few cars were on the roads in 1911 and little was available in the way of alternative long-distance public transport.

Two young men had been due to return from holiday at Blackpool and the strike hindered them.

They spent a short part of the journey standing on the back of a fruiterer’s horse-drawn cart. Their journey home, via various means, took 24 hours.

David C Glover

Baker Fold