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Last updated:08 June 2015

200 years of working class movement activism

  • 1791
  • Thomas Paine and 'Rights of Man'

    Thomas Paine, a staymaker's son, was born in 1737 in the small country town of Thetford in Norfolk. He attended the local school until he was twelve and left to become his father's apprentice. The probability of him becoming anything other than a country tradesman seemed minimal. At nineteen,...

  • 1798
  • Irish Rebellion

    The immediate origins of the 1798 Rebellion can be traced to the creation of the Society of United Irishmen in October 1791. Inspired by the American War of Independence and the French Revolution of 1789. the United Irishmen were led by Theobald Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell, Henry Joy McCracken...

  • 1819
  • Peterloo

    On 16 August 1819 armed cavalrymen and soldiers attacked a peaceful crowd in Manchester. Local radicals had called the meeting as part of a campaign for the political reform of parliament, a campaign given renewed vigour by the distressed economic conditions since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The...

  • 1834
  • Tolpuddle

    The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was a trade society formed in October 1833 in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle. Its aim was to increase the wages paid to workers by farmers and land owners. It was created by George Loveless, a farm labourer, in response to his failed...

  • 1844
  • Rochdale Pioneers

    During the 1830s and 40s poor living and working conditions, low wage rates and large-scale unemployment in the Lancashire town of Rochdale, coupled with a failed Flannel Weavers' strike resulted in twenty eight weavers forming a group which aimed, through collective and co-operative means to improve the lives of...

  • 1848
  • Kennington Common Chartist meeting

    A series of large and sometimes violent working class protests caused by a combination of a poor economy, a bad harvest and growing poverty culminated on 10 April 1848 in a huge demonstration involving tens of thousands of mainly working class people on an area of grassland in south...

  • 1867
  • Manchester Martyrs

    On 18 September 1867 a group of armed Irishmen freed two Fenian prisoners from a prison van on Hyde Road, Manchester. During the raid a policeman, Sergeant Charles Brett, was accidentally shot dead. Three Irishmen, William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O'Brien, were convicted for the shooting and hanged...

  • 1868
  • First meeting of the TUC

    Following the establishment of many Trades Councils in British towns and cities in the 1860s there were calls for an annual national meeting of trade unions - particularly from Manchester and Salford Trades Councils. The idea was the creation of an organisation which would form a national and united...

  • 1871
  • Fall of the Paris Commune

    The Paris Commune of 1871 is hailed as the first successful seizure of power by the working class. In a remarkable revolutionary movement, the workers of Paris replaced the capitalist state with their own government on 18 March 1871. They held political power until their downfall on 28 May...

  • 1893
  • Foundation of the ILP

    The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was founded in 1893 in Bradford by Scottish politician Keir Hardie.  In 1900 it joined with the trade unions and other socialist groups in forming the Labour Representation Committee, which later became the Labour Party.  It was formed, as the name suggests, to set...

  • 1906
  • Creation of the Labour Party

    The origins of the Labour Party go back to 1900 with the foundation of the Labour Representation Committee. It was created with the goal of changing the British Parliament to represent everybody. Ignored by the Tories and disillusioned with the Liberals, a coalition of different groups and interests came...

  • 1908
  • Formation of the Plebs League

    A passion for adult education was a distinctive feature of British socialist movements and political parties of the late nineteenth century. Socialists from working class backgrounds often felt hindered by their lack of schooling, and even those socialists from higher social classes who had been privileged or lucky enough...

  • 1913
  • Cat and Mouse Act

    The Cat and Mouse Act (formally known as the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913) was an Act of Parliament passed in Britain by Asquith's Liberal government in 1913. It made the hunger strikes that Suffragettes were undertaking in prison in their fight to win the vote...

  • 1924
  • First Labour government

    1924 saw Britain's first ever Labour government under the leadership of James Ramsay MacDonald. In the General Election of 1922 the Labour Party won 142 seats making it the second largest political group in the House of Commons after the Conservative Party. In the 1923 General Election Labour won...

  • 1926
  • General Strike

    The General Strike was the most significant British labour dispute of the twentieth century. It was a huge solidarity action in support of the miners' union. The mines had been taken under government control during the First World War but were handed back to private ownership once the War...

  • 1931
  • Red Megaphones first performance

    Sixteen year old Jimmy Miller and some unemployed friends organised a street theatre group to spread the communist word. This was the start of a venture which led eventually to the world famous Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. Jimmy Miller later changed his name to Ewan MacColl. Eddie Frow wrote:...

  • 1932
  • Kinder Scout mass trespass

    Since 1884 attempts had been made for an Access to Mountains Bill in Parliament to give the public the unrestricted right to walk on uncultivated moorland.  Such land was not just forbidden territory, it was guarded by gamekeepers armed with sticks. In 1932 the Manchester area committee of the...

  • 1936
  • Spanish Civil War

    The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936 when army officers attempted to overthrow the democratic Republican government. They were only partly successful, the country was split in half and bitter civil war ensued. Thousands of foreign volunteers (International Brigades), including many from Britain and Ireland, came to the...

  • 1944
  • Education Act

    The 1944 Education Act was a major change to the education system of England and Wales. It introduced secondary education for all, raised the school leaving age to 15, and provided school meals and milk for all children. Alongside the 1946 National Health Service Act, the Education Act is...

  • 1945
  • Nationalisation of the mines

    The first statute to give the state some element of control over coal mining was the Coal Mines Inspection Act of 1850 which set up an inspectorate of coal mines. From then on, a succession of different government departments were involved in the coal industry. After the outbreak of...

  • 1948
  • Birth of the NHS

    The Labour government elected after the Second World War made healthcare for all a priority. Under the previous system, only those in employment were entitled to free treatment under national insurance provisions. In creating the new system Minister for Health Aneurin Bevan faced opposition from the Conservative Party, from...

  • 1956
  • Hungarian Uprising

    The communist regime in Hungary had essentially been imposed by the Soviet Union in the immediate post-war years. Although progressive measures, such as land reform, had been introduced, the regime was bureaucratic and repressive. The old right wing of Hungarian society never regarded it as legitimate. The replacement of...

  • 1958
  • Aldermaston March and birth of CND

    The first atomic bomb was dropped by the USA on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Three days later a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki; the Second World War was over, but a new Atomic Age had begun. The fear of nuclear warfare gripped...

  • 1968
  • Prague Spring

    The ‘Prague Spring' refers to a short-lived period of reform introduced by the government of Czechoslovakia in April 1968. The leader of the Czech government, Alexander Dub hek, wanted the Czech regime to display ‘socialism with a human face'. In other words, under Dub hek Czechoslovakia retained its socialist...

  • 1971
  • Upper Clyde Shipbuilders

    ‘We are not going to strike...We are taking over the yards because we refuse to accept that faceless men can make these decisions. We are not strikers. We are responsible people and we will conduct ourselves with dignity and discipline' - Jimmy Reid, chair of the joint co-ordinating committee...

  • 1976
  • Grunwick dispute

    Jayaben Desai instigated a strike among the mainly Asian and female workforce at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in north west London in the summer of 1976, protesting about working conditions and race and pay inequality. About a third of the firm's workers joined the APEX trade union, went...

  • 1982
  • Falklands War

    The Falklands War was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland Islands. The Falklands (Islas Malvinas to Argentineans) consist of two large and several small islands in the South Atlantic Ocean east of Argentina. The sovereignty of these islands had long been disputed....

  • 1984
  • Miners' Strike

    The 1984/85 miners' strike lasted a year and was one of the longest and potentially most damaging industrial disputes ever seen in Britain. On 5 March 1984 some local strikes began at Cortonwood Colliery and other Yorkshire collieries over pit closures that had been announced by the Conservative Government....

  • 1990
  • Nelson Mandela's release from prison

    On 11 February 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from jail following 27 years of imprisonment (as leader of the African National Congress (ANC)'s armed wing, he had co-ordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets). His release was broadcast live all over the world. An international campaign for his...

  • 1998
  • Good Friday agreement

    The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was a major breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. Signed in 1998, the 65-page document sought to address relationships within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between both parts of Ireland and England,...

  • 1999
  • Introduction of the National Minimum Wage

    On 21 April 1999 the National Minimum Wage took effect, ensuring that all workers were paid a basic hourly rate - originally £3.60. The National Minimum Wage Act was a flagship policy of the Labour Party during its 1997 election campaign. No national minimum wage existed prior to this...

  • 2001
  • Stop the War campaign

    The Stop the War Coalition was formed on 21 September 2001 at a public meeting of over 2,000 people in London following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. At this meeting a ‘Steering Committee' for the coalition was elected, consisting of a spectrum of left-wingers including representatives of Labour Left...

  • 2013
  • People's Assembly

    The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, to give it its full title, launched in February 2013 with an open letter to The Guardian, backed by political figures such as Tony Benn.  It aims to be a broad united national campaign against austerity, cuts and privatisation in UK workplaces, community and...

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