British syndicalism emerged in the years after 1900 in response, Holton (1976) says, to "urgent economic and political problems facing the working class."
Firstly, British capitalism was still struggling -despite the end of the "Great Depression"- and real wages fell some 10% between 1900 and 1912.
Secondly, capitalist industry was increasingly concentrated. Businesses were amalgamating. Employers associations were being set up. "Federated capital" was more visible (Holton 1976).
Thirdly, technological change was displacing/downgrading certain craft skills.
And finally labour leaders were increasingly being incorporated into state sponsored collective bargaining structures and into the bourgeois parliamentary system. Trade union officials now seemed increasingly remote from the rank and file. And Lloyd George would boast in 1912 that parliamentary socialists were the "best policemen" when it came to managing and diffusing industrial unrest.
Face with all this -falling wages, deskilling, larger units of capitalist production and conservatism on the part of traditional labour leaders- workers began to look beyond sectionalism and reformism to class unity, direct action and industrial unionism.
This syndicalist sentiment was influenced by what had been going on in Europe, the US and Australia. But it also drew from domestic traditions of workplace militancy and what Holton (1976) describes as "anti-State socialism."
On Saturday 13 May at 1pm at the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1, the Wakefield Socialist History Group are holding an event, SYNDICALISM AND THE GREAT UNREST. The speakers are Robin Stocks and Alan Brooke. Other speakers tbc. The chair is Adrian Cruden. Admission is free and all are welcome. A free light buffet will be provided.
Convenor, Wakefield Socialist History Group