The great Labour unrest

Rank-and-file movements and political change in the Durham coalfield

By Lewis Mates

The great Labour unrest


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4560-4
  • Pages: 328
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £22.50
  • Published Date: March 2020
  • BIC Category: Politics, Industrialisation & industrial history, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / Victorian Era (1837-1901), Society & social sciences / Socialism & left-of-centre democratic ideologies, Industry & Industrial Studies, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Communism, Post-Communism & Socialism, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Labor & Industrial Relations, North & North East England


The Great Labour Unrest examines the struggle between liberals, socialists and revolutionary syndicalists for control of Britain's best established district miners' union. Drawing widely on a vast and rich body of primary sources, this study reveals the debates that grassroots activists had during the fascinating and turbulent 'Great Labour Unrest' period. It charts the contexts in which the socialists challenged the union's Liberal leaders from the late 1890s and considers the complex strikes in 1910 against the implementation of the Liberal government's miners' eight-hour day. It analyses the emergence and development of a mass rank-and-file movement in the coalfield based around demands for a miners' minimum wage and, when this principle was won in March 1912, for an improved minimum wage. This book is of interest to academics, advanced students and lay people interested in political, social and economic history, political thought, economics, and industrial relations.


'Mates claims to offer a case study which gives a new perspective on the nature and significance of the turmoil in Edwardian Britain. It is a claim that is well justified. Like every good case study, it demonstrates the complexity of events and the role of the personal and the idiosyncratic. But it also demonstrates convincingly the intertwining of the political and the industrial struggles in the early years of the twentieth century, with the consequences that are with us still.'
Quentin Outram, University of Leeds, Labour History Review, vol. 81 No. 2 July 2016

'This is a painstakingly thorough account.'
Don Watson, North East History no. 47 2016

'There is no other work on this topic of this quality and this will join the spine of books which constitute the definitive accounts in regional and national mining historiography.'
Stuart Howard, Social History, 42:1 (2017), pp. 121-123

'the language used is never obscure, this is [.] a very rigorous academic study'.
'Activists 'need to draw on material and approaches from studies like this book, presenting them primarily as examples of how historians pose and seek to clarify problems. We need to do this without crudifying the reasoning processes of the historians involved, but to do it, at the same time, in such a way as so far as possible to convince activists who are not academically trained that they too can think historically'.'
Colin Waugh, Post-16 Educator, 86 (January, 2017), pp. 20-21

'The book displays an impressive grasp of sources and the text is exhaustively annotated. Mates mines the extant minutes of the DMA and its lodges (branches) and makes use of the extensive local newspaper coverage of the coal industry.'
John Tomaney, The London School of Economics and Political Science

'Mates has produced an important and valuable contribution to the historiography of both the 'Great Labour Unrest' and the 'rise of Labour'. Furthermore, his exceptionally detailed and convincingly argued case study highlights the crucial importance of understanding local conditions and circumstances if we are to fully understand national changes'.
David Selway, Sussex University, Twentieth Century British History

A 'wonderful work of scholarship' that 'employs a formidable wealth of hitherto barely utilized primary evidence to evaluate even-handedly the objective and subjective constraints and opportunities at work'.
It 'makes an important distinct contribution'.
Ralph Darlington, University of Salford, Economic History Review, 70, 1 (2017), pp. 342-343

'Naturally, the centenary of the [Great Labour] unrest brought renewed interest in the phenomenon, though not as much as one would expect in a country that once led the world in labour studies, guided by the twin towers of E. P. Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm. For that reason, among others, Lewis Mates's monograph is especially welcome'.
'Mates avoids the partisan, special pleading that has characterized much of the literature arguing for syndicalist influence on contemporary British workers and adopts a more complex and multi-faceted approach.'
'. it is written clearly, researched thoroughly, objective and judicious in interpretation. It makes a substantial contribution to the debate on the Great Labour Unrest and will be of immense interest to students of the topic'.
Emmet O'Connor, Ulster University, History, 102:350 (April 2017), pp. 326-327

'This meticulously researched and carefully crafted book makes a significant contribution to the literature on the prospects for Edwardian Liberalism and for Labour as an independent force.'
David Howell, University of York, EHR, February 2018

'Going down the pit of Lewis Mates' Great Labour Unrest and exploring its nooks and crannies is a demanding but stimulating experience you will not regret.'
Yann Beliard, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3, Anarchist Studies 27.1


1 Historiographical introduction
2 Structures, agents and the ILP's high tide
3 The Eight Hours Act and the Eight Hours Agreement in the Durham coalfield
4 'Not exactly the millennium': the minimum wage campaign
5 'A capitalistic piece of legislation': the launch of the Durham Forward Movement and the syndicalists' high tide?
6 'Trade union questions were now political questions': Defeats, victories and new strategies
7 Conclusion



Lewis H. Mates is Tutor in Politics at Durham University

Newsletter Sign Up

Manchester University Press

Your cart is empty.

Select your shipping destination to estimate postage costs

(Based on standard shipping costs)

Final cost calculated on checkout
Promotional codes can be added on Checkout