Reece Goscinski reports from the Halifax commemoration of the 1842 general strikes and the lessons it holds for the struggle today
Large crowds assembled in Halifax to witness the unveiling of a new plaque commemorating the town's fatally injured during the Great Strike of 1842. Organised by Calderdale Trades Council, the event reflected on the radicalism of the workers in the town and the brutal responses of the capitalist state.
Influenced by the Chartist movement, the 1842 General Strike saw workers assert their demands for better wages and extension of the franchise. The momentum of the movement made its way to Halifax in August of that year. Striking workers from across Lancashire and Yorkshire were greeted by 150 soldiers and 200 special constables at Skircoat Green to halt the movement's growth and to protect the profit of the industrialists.
Such threats did not deter the Halifax workers from bringing the mill town to a standstill by removing plugs from the boilers and halting production. The military were also pelted with missiles and workers came into physical conflict with soldiers as they attempted to release their comrades set to be put on trial in York for strike activity.
The momentum of the movement soon pushed the revolt into Halifax town centre where soldiers fired into the crowd and attacked workers with sabres. By the end of the conflict hundreds had been injured, six people were dead and many protesters received harsh imprisonment resulting in death.
This historical episode highlights the determination of the capitalist class to prevent workers' right to withdraw their labour and take part in democratic activity.
Such notions were not lost on the event's speakers, with many drawing comparisons to Liz Truss’s campaign pledge to further restrict trade unionism, Priti Patel’s Public Order Bill restricting the right to protest, and the continued need for action as workers are punished for the cost-of-living crisis.
The case of the Halifax workers is an inspiration to the labour movement as we approach a Tory winter of discontent. Our claims to democracy, pay, dignity and protest are important freedoms that need to be defended and enhance as we move forward.
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