Old wine in new bottles? Syndicalism and ‘fakirism’ in the Great Labour Unrest, 1911 1914

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No conceptual tool is as useful or as controversial for analysing the Great Labour Unrest as syndicalism. This is not to say that syndicalism explains the militancy, but that it offers a prism through which we can examine its characteristics and the ideas behind it, and cut to the core of the historiographical debate. The paper argues that the industrial conflict of 1889 to 1914 was all of a piece, and that the Great Unrest of 1911-1914 was its ultimate expression; secondly, that there was a correlation between the growth of syndicalism and of militancy throughout the industrial world from 1900, and that these shaped the context of the British unrest; thirdly, that the influence of syndicalism was not due to the lure of irrationality, but to the practical appeal of industrial unionism as a strategy and of sympathetic action as a method of struggle; fourthly, that characteristics like violence and workerism were responses to the use of state force and disillusionment with the perceived inadequacy of the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party in defending workers; and fifthly, that the constitutional crisis was essentially a crisis of the establishment. Finally, the contrasting fortunes of syndicalism in Britain and Ireland will be assessed for what they tell us about the merits of ‘dual unionism’ and ‘boring from within’, the alternative strategies which were keenly debated among contemporary syndicalists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-36
JournalLabour History Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 May 2014


  • Industrial relations
  • Labour
  • Strikes
  • Syndicalism
  • Trade Unions


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