I don’t know where the idea of a peaceful Edwardian era came from but it wasn’t anything like that.
In 1905 the Liberal Party won with a landslide the election. The Liberal government were planning to cut the power of the House of Lords but the Conservatives opposed it. The House of Lords in those days had great power for century as the landed gentry.
Then there were the Suffragettes who campaigned for women to vote and became more and more aggressive. They smashed windows, set post boxes on fire and attacking ministers.
These were just minor incidents. The big issue was the country was in the grip of a major strike which was intensifying into an overall revolution.
The root of the unrest was economic. During the 19th century Britain was the major supplier to the world. However, looking at that fact and the British Empire was in its full glory and prosperity but the people were working for the lowest wages and living in slums. This is unforgivable. Queen Victoria certainly didn’t care for her people. But let’s get back to the Edwardian era.
At the turn of the century or soon after the USA and Germany started to produce and domineered the markets of the world. As always when there is a economic crises the wages fell by 10 per cent between 1896 and 1914 and the cost of living doubled. It is incredible to lower wages which had been impossible to live on to start with. It is known that in those days children and adults were starving and died of diseases because of inadequate food and housing.
It was no wonder that Trade Union leaders emerged everywhere to get their people a reasonable wages to live on. They also use their power to force governments into various concessions. Up to that day industrial action was unheard of. It began with the rail strike in 1910 which was followed by cotton workers, boilermakers and Welsh miners in 1911. Even the sailors went on strike which again is not surprisingly when you read about their condition they worked under.
In August 1911 England was in a heat wave and the strikes spread to the London docks. There were mountains of vegetables, fish and meat rotting, barrel of butter rancid on the dock sites.
The government brought in 1,600 special, armed police to break the strike. Ben Tillett, leader of the new Transport Workers’ Federation informed Winston Churchill, home secretary, they will bring about a state of war. Hunger and poverty drove his dockers and ship workers to this present state and no soldiers or policemen will stop them.
Liverpool was also on a wide spread turmoil and the workers were on the street.
There was a demonstration of 80,000 people on George’s Plateau. It was violently suppressed and up to this day known as Bloody Sunday. An eyewitness report went out stating that policemen gave cruel blows over women, children and men. They laid on the street, bleeding and some unconscious. Afterwards the police demanded films to be edited to enable them to remove scenes of their attack.
This unprovoked attack gave reason to a general strike. On August 15 soldiers shot dead two dockers, Michael Prendergast and John Sutcliffe. This action escalated into a national strike of the four railway unions. It never happened before. 200,000 workers went out. To add to the explosive situation there were two unarmed protesters, aged 20, shot dead by troops in Wales.
The government was not facing a challenge of their authority every where. They had to bow down and give concession to dockers and railwaymen. However, it wasn’t the end of it.
Come September, even the schoolchildren went on strike demanding to end the use of caning.
The following February the country saw the biggest miners strike ever. One million miners walked out. Then in 1912 there was another major dockers' strike.
Ben Tillett, declared that he would shot Lord Devonport, head of the Port of London, if any more of his men got murdered. Everybody expected an uprising and revolution. The gentlemen left their clubs and went to buy revolvers for protection.
Britain really was on the brink of a revolution. In 1914 the National Union Of Railwaymen, the Transport Workers Federation and the miners’ Federation signed an alliance.
The prevention of this dangerous situation came from the Balkan. The shooting of the Crown Prince which escalated into the First World War prevented the revolution in Britain.
As for a beautiful and peaceful Edwardian era it definitely wasn’t.
Now, the question remains, since it was its 100red anniversary in 2011, is the situation so different? Of course, it is a complete different Britain today but with wages again being reduced because of the economic crisis, the cost of living doubled if not more, the fundamental settings are there. However, it is hoped it will not escalate into these situation of a general strike and people being shot or beating up.