Monday, 21 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 24. 21 July 1914: growth of trade unionism, and reappearance of a disturbing story

One hundred years ago today, on Tuesday 21 July 1914, Martin, a young member of the still relatively new National Union of Railwaymen, might have taken some encouragement from news in the Manchester Guardian. It even started with a well-deserved side-swipe at government departments.

With that hustling enterprise which distinguishes Government Departments the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies has now issued his report on the position of trade unions in 1912. The public would take more interest in these documents if they dealt with last year instead of the year before. Nevertheless, this report contains matters of great interest to the social student. In the first place it reveals the immense growth of trade unionism in seven years, and its improved organisation.

“Improved organisation” meant that there were fewer trades unions: down from 742 to 683 over ten years. Despite the fall in number of organisations, the number of members had been steadily climbing:

1903   1,575,000 

1905   1,567,000
1910   2,017,000
1911   2,372,000
1912   2,507,000

The fall in the early years of the century had given way to a rapid rise.

Ten years ago the trade unions probably included about one-fifth of the adult male workers of the country. To-day they approach one-third.

Strikers in London: organisation was growing
What with the 40 or so Labour MPs, it felt as though the working man was beginning to feel his strength and raise his voice. About time.

Not such a good thing was the re-emergence of that damned business in Serbia in the aftermath of the shooting of the Austrian Grand Duke. Two students had been arrested in Hungary over a plot to shoot another important figure of the Empire, the “Ban of Croatia”. Apparently one of them had:

... repeatedly declared that attempts against eminent persons, such as the Archduke Francis Ferdinand... were necessary, as thereby anarchy would be created and intervention of the Servian Army for the union of Croatia and Servia would be facilitated.

That story was followed by one that set still more alarm bells ringing. A Berlin-based Reuter’s correspondent reported on “German Anxieties.”

There is reason to believe that an Austro-Hungarian Note, embodying the results of the investigation into the murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife at Sarayevo, will be communicated to the Powers ... within the next days and possibly to-morrow.

Apparently there was “marked uneasiness” on the stock exchange “as the date for the action which Austria-Hungary proposes to take in Belgrade draws nearer.”

Action? In Belgrade? The capital of Serbia itself? To take action in a foreign capital would surely involve an invasion, wouldn’t it? That was the first he’d heard of any such plans. He wasn’t surprised the stock exchange was concerned. He wasn
’t that pleased about it himself

In political quarters in Berlin it is not denied that the Austro-Hungarian action, which is imminent, may add temporarily to the strain, but hope is expressed that the crisis which may possibly arise will be confined to Austria-Hungary and Servia, especially as the action to be taken from Vienna will be given a polite though positive form, and its justification, it is thought, must be recognised even in Belgrade.

What on earth was “polite but positive” action?

“They knock on the door before knocking it down and setting fire to your house,” said the Cynic.

And it was all very well to hope that whatever happened would be confined to Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but what if it wasn’t? If it spilled over, where would the spill stop?

“Right on your doorstep,” said the Cynic, “you mark my words.”

Meanwhile, another article spoke of the “Dual Alliance”. Raymond PoincarĂ©, the President of France, was visiting the Tsar of Russia. Their warships had met up too, though that hadn’t been an entirely unmitigated a success: “at four o’clock this morning a thick mist enveloped the French and Russia naval forces, and the France, on board which was M. PoincarĂ©, came into collision with a Russian dredger.”

Yes, well. Perhaps things weren’t running that smoothly inside the Dual Alliance.

Russian ship.
Dangerous. Particularly in mist. Even to allies

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