The years running up to the First World War were marked with many industrial disputes as workers joined trade unions in huge numbers to challenge falling real wages and working conditions. Keir Hardie was unsurprisingly to be found supporting workers in struggle across the UK.
The government decided on a number of occasions to deploy troops in support of the police. This was attacked by trade unions as an abuse of state power in support of the bosses and speakers at union rallies often called upon working class soldiers to disobey orders.
In the National Archives I found a 1912 Home Office file full of complaints from 'concerned citizens' about this, asking why the authorities are not charging the trade union leaders with sedition or similar offences.
One such complaint covered a meeting in Bristol at which Keir Hardie spoke. He said:
"I only know of two classes of people who can command police and military escort - one the blackleg and the other the Royal family. So far as I can make out, in the eyes of the powers that be, the one is regarded as important as the other. And I dare say that if the capitalist class were called upon to decide whether they would abolish the Royal family or the blackleg they would decide for the latter without hesitation."
Another speaker said:
"It is not the function of the soldier, maybe your son or brother, to be called out to shoot those who are simply fighting for right and a bit more bread and cheese."
One concerned citizen residing at, The Manor House, Othery, Bridgewater, enclosed a copy of the newspaper article in his complaint to the Home Secretary. The letter is on file and is reproduced below.
The civil servant who considered the matter was clearly outraged by the speeches. "The language is well calculated, not only to cause discontent and disaffection amongst H.M. subjects and promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different classes."
I somehow doubt Keir Hardie would have disagreed with that!
Sadly for 'outraged of Bridgewater', the civil servant had to conclude that it wasn't a case that called for criminal proceedings. Pity really, I am sure Keir Hardie would have enjoyed defending himself at that trial.
9 August 2019