Today a memorial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the deaths of two Liverpool workers murdered by the British Army during the 1911 Transport strike in the city. The plaque is located on Vauxhall Road, at the site where one of the workers, 19-year-old John Sutcliffe, was shot twice in the head. The other man, docker Michael Prendergast, 30, was shot in the chest just a short distance further down Vauxhall Road.
This occurred against a backdrop of industrial unrest in Liverpool in the summer of that year. Events came to a head on 13th August, with workers attending a rally at St. George’s Plateau being attacked by police following a speech from Tom Mann. Riots broke out and 350 people were injured in what became known as Liverpool’s “Bloody Sunday”. Two days later, with the army ordered onto the streets by Home Secretary Winston Churchill and a Royal Navy warship on the Mersey, police and the 18th Hussars were escorting prison wagons from the city centre towards Walton jail along a controversial route down Vauxhall Road. Many believe this was a deliberately provocative act, with many striking dock-workers living in the area. Unrest followed and the soldiers opened fire on the crowd. Sutcliffe and Prendergast were killed and 13 others injured.
Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were present for both the unveiling ceremony, and the pre-unveiling presentation and speeches from local left-wing historians and trade unionists, including Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. The unveiling of the plaque is an important event acknowledging the struggle of the city’s working class against the combined forces of the bosses and the state, yet, as with many events of this kind, it is also an opportunity for trade union officials and local politicians to make themselves look as if they’re doing something. We felt it important to have a revolutionary syndicalist presence at this event.
The strike was eventually broken when bosses and union moderates negotiated an end to the dispute, with all sacked strikers reinstated. Sporadic unrest continued until the end of the month. Winston Churchill had described the situation in 1911 as “near to revolution”. These events proved that when the working class is united in solidarity and determined to act, the bosses and the state can be truly shaken. Who knows what may have happened if the momentum of these days had not been lost?