Party members from Merthyr, Swansea, Runcorn and Bristol brought our flags to Llanelli on 16 August to join the annual commemoration of the Llanelli 1911 rail strike, honouring the memories of the two workers slain by the British army.
The murder was in brutal retaliation for the occupation of Llanelli rail station – an occupation which had succeeded in blocking the passage of a strike-breaking train, bringing all rail traffic to a halt. The two murdered comrades, Leonard Worsell and John John, were simple bystanders, viciously struck down by a military in complete panic at the sight of a risen working class.
About a hundred people marched behind the band from the rail station to the town hall, pausing outside the house into which the two dying men were taken.
In the town hall square, the organisers invited all who wished to speak to step forward. Whilst there was the expected point-scoring between Labour and Plaid reformists, most speeches celebrated the courage and solidarity of the working class in the face of state oppression.
Our comrade pointed out that the violence inflicted on workers during the major industrial conflicts between 1908 and 1914 was soon to be dwarfed by the mass murder of workers in the imperialist war. He noted that both the ‘Great Unrest’ and the war itself had been the inevitable consequence of imperialist crisis, as was the current drive to austerity and war.
We had to understand that austerity and war were not simply the ‘policy’ of this or that government, but the inevitable road taken by imperialism in time of global overproduction crisis. Our choice was between poverty and war under capitalism, or peace and prosperity under socialism.
We then marched up the hill to Box Cemetery to honour the graves of the two fallen comrades.
CPGB-ML banner and flags on the Llanelli rail commemoration march, August 2011
On Saturday 18th August, CPGB-ML and Red Youth joined the march and rally to commemorate the anniversary of the Llanelli rail strike of 1911. The strike was memorable both for the slaughter of two workers by the British army, and for the heroic and steadfast spirit of resistance which animated the strikers and their many supporters. Our contingent was proud to support this event, distributing our literature as we marched through Llanelli.
At the rally many spoke about the spirited local campaign to prevent the downgrading of the Accident and Emergency service at the local Prince Phillip hospital. Sadly, a number of speeches seemed more concerned with point-scoring between Labour and Plaid Cymru, with each blaming the other for the threatened cuts coming down the line. A speaker from our party was invited by Llanelli Trades Council to say a few words, a welcome opportunity to put the historical events of 1911 in the context of today’s crisis of capitalism and the tasks facing the working class. The comrade spoke as follows:
“On behalf of the CPGB-ML I would like to thank Llanelli Trades Council for inviting me to say a few words on this day of commemoration.
When we recall the murder by the British army of John John and Leonard Worsell, we do not comfort ourselves with the false idea that this was the last time workers were slain by the British state. It is sufficient to recall
- the fatal battering of anti-Nazi campaigner Blair Peach in 1979;
- the judicial murder of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, shot seven times in the head whilst pinned to the ground in Stockwell tube station;
- the killing of bystander Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demo in 2010, now revealed to have been the subject of a criminal cover-up by the official pathologist;
- and the public execution of father-of-three Mark Duggan in 2011 on the streets of Tottenham.
All four were victims of state violence. In their case, the instruments of the state wore police uniforms. The army in recent years has been reserved for the slaughter of workers in faraway places – though we note that the Irish murdered in Ireland by the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday (to mention but one of the myriad crimes against the Irish nation) were said by the colonisers to have met their deaths on “British soil”.
In remembering the events which took place in Llanelli one hundred years ago, we are inspired by the fighting spirit shown by working people resisting capitalism, by the spirit of non-cooperation which erupted even within the army itself, and by the electrifying effect this resistance had throughout the whole community. So far from being merely a historical footnote, the events of the 1911 Llanelli rail strike have real and urgent lessons for all those workers today who are fighting to prevent their living standards being ground down by a capitalist system in crisis.
The uprisings triggered last summer by the assassination of Mark Duggan revealed a depth of anger amongst young workers deprived of a decent future by the crisis of capitalism, and a willingness to fight back against a system that is effectively declaring war on the entire working class. Those uprisings were closer to the true spirit of 1911 than anything the TUC has yet come up with by way of “coordinating resistance”, despite the proven willingness of local government workers, doctors, construction workers, teachers, transport workers, students and Occupy activists to make a fight of it. All that is missing is the political leadership.
It is time to stop lying to the working class about the character of this crisis. The choice which faces us all is not “destructive cuts” versus “humane cuts”. The choice is between a warmongering capitalist barbarism spinning out of control – or socialism. The best commemoration of the martyrs, strikers and fighters of 1911 will come when the red flag is hoisted over Wales, Scotland and England. Bring it on! Join the struggle! Long live the spirit of 1911!”
After the rally, we marched up the hill to the cemetery where our two fallen comrades are buried. We laid one floral tribute (from the CPGB-ML) on the grave of Leonard Worsell, and a second (from Red Youth) on the grave of John John.
More photos of event (Flickr)
1911 special: Working-class struggles in Britain
Uprisings terrify the ruling class
YOUTH UPRISING SUPPLEMENT: Rage against capitalism