Citizen strike breakers: volunteers, strikes and the state in Britain, 1911-1926

Author: Liam Ryan
This is the abstract of an article published in Labour History Review (2022), 87, (2), 109-140. Read more.

This article provides the first systematic historical study of volunteer strike-breaking across a relatively broad time frame, focusing specifically on the period between 1911 and 1926. These years bore witness to the largest industrial conflict in British history, encompassing the Great Labour Unrest of 1911-14, the post-war strike wave of 1919-23, and the General Strike of 1926. The sheer size and scale of these strikes, which involved millions of workers and engulfed entire cities, towns, and communities, instigated a shift away from traditional strikebreaking agencies and actors and towards civilian volunteers. This article challenges prevailing interpretations of the General Strike, interwar political culture, and the implications of voluntary activism in early twentieth-century Britain. It sheds light on the hitherto unexplored role of volunteers during the Great Labour Unrest and highlights how this activity often provoked considerable violence on the part of strikers. Contrary to dominant interpretations centred on the General Strike, which often highlight the good spirits of the volunteers, this article pays more attention to the hostility, arrogance, and sense of social hierarchy that underpinned the volunteer world view.