[From Manx Quarterly #20 1919]






From Wednesday night, July 3rd. to Friday afternoon, July 5th, unprecedented conditions obtained in the Isle of Man as a consequence of a general strike proclaimed by the various Labour organisations of the Island by way of a protest against a threatened increase in the price of the quartern loaf from ninepence to one shilling. During the summer of 1917; the British Government sanctioned the, susidising of flour and bread to an extent which allowed of the loaf being sold by retail at ninepence until such time as the subsidy should he revoked, and the example of the Imperial Authorities was followed by the Government of the Isle of Man in modified form. The Manx subsidy was granted to cover a period of six months, commencing on November 26th, 1917. In the ordinary course, the specified period would have expired on May 26th, but Lieutenant-Governor of the Island (Lord Raglan) made such arrangements as allowed the loaf being sold at ninepence until Sunday, June 30th. On Friday, 27th, his Excellency, in the course of the annual financial statement to Tynwald announced that the subsidy would terminate with the end of the month, and not be renewed except under conditions which will be found set out in the history of succeeding events subsequent, it was this announcement that precipitated practical protest from the Manx proletariat — protest which took the form of the most complete, as it was decidedly the most unpleasant, dislocation of trade end industry ever experienced in the Island.


First it will afford a better understanding of matters if we recapitulate the circumstances which occasioned the strike. For two years, at least, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Island, acting as mouthpiece of the Imperial Treasury, had been impressing upon Tynwald the advisability of levying direct taxation with a view to replenishing the Accumulated Fund of the Island. Grants in relief of persons engaged in the boarding-house industry and in aid of local rates were depleting the fund, to serious extent, and though the surplus revenue derived from indirect taxation made good the sums voted for the purpose of remedying distress arising out of the war, the Treasury regarded the position as fraught with serious potentialities in the future. The unusually large product of indirect taxation was entirely due to the huge amounts paid through the Customs by the British Government in respect of dutiable articles consumed in connection with the Enemy Alien Detention Camps at Knockaloe and Douglas. It is estimated that something like £50,000 per annum was thus derived, and if the estimate be correct it follows that instead of surpluses ranging from £20,000 to £40,000 a year being realised, deficiencies of from £10,000 down would have resulted. In other words, the Island would not have been in a position to meet the ordinary cost of the public service — not by a long way. In the event of peace being declared, or of the enemy alien camps being abolished or removed, the Island wound have been faced with the possibility of a bankrupt national exchequer pending the tapping of new sources of taxation or the rehabilitation of the holiday industry, which is the mainstay of revenue derived from indirect taxation. The former alternative would have involved inconvenience and delay if left to the last moment; while so far as the latter is concerned, the Treasury feared that difficulties arising out of demobilisation after conclusion of peace, and those attendant upon securing a sufficiency of transport for holiday-makers would have prejudiced the Manx "season" to such purpose that the arrivals of visitors, for a year or two at least, would not have sufficed to assure the Insular Revenue at its pre-war strength. This being so, the Treasury. instructed the Governor to urge the advisability and necessity of direct taxation — a form of taxation from which the Island had so, far been immune Tynwald — or it would be more correct to say the House of Keys — after some demur, professed readiness to impose further taxation, and as a matter of fact Tynwald two years ago did take steps to reinforce the revenue by imposing additional Customs Duties upon certain articles, some of which were necessaries of life. The incidence of indirect taxation, by the way, bears quite as heavily upon the poor as upon the rich — more heavily perhaps; and,it was the inequality of sacrifice thus involved which moved the Treasury to insist practically that direct taxation, which is in effect an impost upon wealth,. should be levied.

Professedly the House of Keys were willing to pasts the necessary legislation to secure direct taxation by way of supplement to indirect taxation, and two years ago the House received from the Governor a bill providing for the imposition of Estate Duties — or Death Duties as they are more commonly called. The Keys passed the bill after inserting an amendment which practically vested control of expenditure out of the Estate Duties Fund in Tynwald. When the bill came before the Council, the Attorney-General suggested that the amendment amounted to surplusage; as legally Tynwald would have absolute control of the product of inland revenue. The Keys scouted the suggestion of the Council that the amendment should be withdrawn, although it was pointed out to them in the columns of a section of the Insular newspaper Press that their course might put the Treasury upon inquiry, with the result that the imperial Authority would insist upon the funds derived from direct taxation being placed in a similar position to indirect taxation funds, expenditure out of the latter being made subject to Treasury control by an Act of the Imperial Parliament passed in 1866. In the course of conferences between the Keys and Council, the former were urge to abandon the amendment, and it was contended in newspapers that insistence might result in Royal Assent to the bill being refused. But the Keys would not brook advice, and eventually the Council, rather than imperil Estate Duties, gave way, and the bill was sent up to London for the King's sanction. Whether the Imperial Authorities had been " put wise" by the debates over the bill in the Manx Legislature, or whether they had all along been alive to the possibilities of the situation, has never been made known. In any case Tynwald, after the lapse of a considerable time, was informed that unless the control clause were deleted from the bill, the equivalent of " Le Roy le vault" would not be forthcoming; and as Tynwald — the House of Keys. we should say — remained obdurate, the Estate Duty Bill fell, to the accompaniment of strong protests by the House of Keys against what the House regarded as the unwarranted pretensions of the Imperial Authorities.

This was the position with regard to direct taxation Proposals when an agitation arose in the Isle of Man during the summer of 1917 that the Island should be placed on an equality with the United Kingdom so far as the bread subsidy was concerned. There was an insistent demand by the Manx people that the ninepenny loaf should be conceded. As there were no signs of anything being done by the Insular Authorities with a view to meeting the demand, questions were eventually addressed by Labour members of the House of Commons to responsible Ministers on the subject. It was an open secret that these questions were influenced by Manx Labour organisations, and certain members of the House of Keys professed to be vastly indignant that the House had been ignored in the matter. Nevertheless the action (if the Labour men acted as a spur upon our Insular Patres Conscripiti, with the result that the Keys were moved to suggest that the Insular Government should follow the example of the Imperial Authorities. The working classes of the Island continued to press for the boon which had been granted in the United Kingdom some months previously, and the pressure became so strong, that a committee of Tynwald was appointed to take the matter into consideration. After hearing evidence, the committee reported and put three schemes alternative of character before Tynwald. After consideration the legislature almost unanimously adopted the suggestion that the ninepenny loaf should be conceded in terms like unto those which obtained in the United Kingdom, and in due course the Governor announced that the Treasury would approve a grant out of the Accumulated Fund to enable the subsidising of the loaf for a period of six months, upon certain conditions. The main condition was that Income Tax should be imposed with a view to recouping the fund in respect of the grant. In submitting the Treasury conditions to Tynwald, Lord Raglan made as plain as words could make it, that any renewal of the grant was dependent on the levy of Income Tax or some other form of direct taxation equally productive, and that failing compliance with condition, the subsidy must lapse with efluxion of time. Tynwald accepted the conditions, and the Treasury sanctioned a vote of £20,000 for the purpose of putting effect to the subsidising of the loaf six months. The ninepenny loaf, by way. came into operation on November 26th, 1917.

Once the grant was made, the Governor to be prepared and submitted to House of Keys a bill providing for income Tax. By a substantial majority the House agreed to the second reading of the bill, and towards the end of 1917 referred the clauses to a committee of the House for report. The committee took four months in reporting — a period which under the circumstances was unconscionably long. Several amendments in the bill were suggested, but so far as the happenings of the strike week are concerned, it will suffice to mention that one of these recommendations was to the effect that a clause should be inserted reserving to Tynwald uncontrolled discretion in the application of the proceeds of Income Tax. The committee so recommended with the full knowledge that the Imperial Authorities had emphatically declared that control must rest with the Treasury, and with the Governor's statement that unless Income Tax were imposed there could be no renewal of the bread subsidy, which had already run for a period of four of its six months, ringing in their ears. More delay on the part of the House of Keys ensued. The committee's report was discussed with meticulous exactitude, and it was not until the last day of April, 1918, that the House finished their task. Most of the committee's recommendations for amendment were approved, including that which had for object the vesting of control of revenue from Income Tax in Tynwald. The Governor was forthwith notified of the decision arrived at by the House, and was requested to instruct the preparation of clause's giving effect to the recommendations adopted. His Excellency upon learning than the House insisted that control should be with Tynwald, said he would write immediately to the Imperial Government reporting what had taken place, and that in the meantime he did not consider it advisable to proceed with the drafting, of amendments until the matter of control had been settled.

The six months period of the bread subsidy expired on May 24th, but as the whole of the £20,000 grant had not been expended, Lord Raglan continued its operation until June 30th. When submitting his annual financial statement to Tynwald on June 28th, his, Excellency reminded the Court of the conditions upon which the vote was approved by the Treasury, and announced that as Income Tax had not been imposed, the bread subsidy could not be renewed as from July 1st. He further announced that the Master Bakers' Association had proclaimed their intention to increase the price of the quartern loaf from ninepence to one shilling, but that he was taking steps with a view to fixing the price at a lower figure. The same day it was made public that the bakers were advancing the price of the loaf to one shilling, and his Excellency synchronously proclaimed a maximum price of tenpence halfpenny.

The Governor's statement in Tynwald caused consternation in the House of Keys, though it could not have been altogether unexpected, seeing the plain and long-standing warning that his Excellency had given to the Court. It was suggested from the elective branch that the resolutions on the agenda for the renewal of certain Customs Duties leviable annually should be held over pending separate consideration by the Keys of the Governor's pronouncement on. the bread subsidy question, and, his Excellency agreeing, the House held a separate and private sitting, the outcome being that a deputation from the Keys waited on his Excellency and conveyed to him a decision at which the House had arrived in private, with the result that Tynwald was adjourned to the following Tuesday.

When the withdrawal of the bread subsidy and the coming increase in the price of the loaf were made public, organised labour at once took the alarm. The notion: of the master bakers and that of the Governor in sanctioning an increase of three half-pence were strongly resented, and it was evident that the workers were not going to accept the situation " lying down." At the instigation of the officials of the Isle of Man District of the Workers' Union, representatives of the various trade unions in the Island were summoned to meet at Douglas on Saturday, June 29th, and at the consequent meeting it was decided unanimously that. unless steps were taken to ensure the continuance of the ninepenny loaf, a general strike of organised labour should be proclaimed by way of protest. The failure of the House of Keys to pass in all its stages the Income Tax Bill, oil the grounds that the bill did not contain a clause reserving to Tynwald full control of the proceeds of the tax, was strongly deprecated, it being held that, in view of the Governor's warning to the Keys eight months ago that renewal of the bread subsidy would be conditional upon the passage of the bill without such a clause being included in it, the House was mainly responsible for the awkward position which bad arisen. The Labour men took steps to notify the Government of the decision, and also decided that meetings should be held in various parts of the Island on Sunday with a view to enlisting public support of the demand for the cheap loaf.

So far as the Governor's, proclamation fixing tenpence halfpenny as the maximum price of the loaf is concerned, it evoked strong resentment from the Master Bakers' Association, which body emphatically asserted that they could not sell at a profit if they complied with the order. They further announced that unless they were permitted to charge a shilling, they would stop baking as from Monday, pending a settlement of the dispute, and practically this announcement was given effect to. It is understood that in this course they had the passive support of the operative Bakers' Association, the members of which decided to stand by their employers, not so much with a view of bringing about the sale of the loaf at a shilling as with the object of forcing a renewal of the subsidy which would enable sale at ninepence.

Meetings called by the Labour Associations were held in Douglas, Ramsey, Peel, and Rushen on Sunday, and at all these meetings emphatically worded resolutions were passed protesting against any increase in the price of bread, and demanding the immediate passing of the Income Tax Bill. The speakers at the meetings made it plain that their main concern was the renewal of the ninepenny loaf, and that it was for the authorities to devise ways and means. At the Douglas meeting, however, it was hinted that in view of the seriousness of the situation, the House of Keys would be well-advised to forego their claim to control of revenue from direct taxation under protest and without prejudice to the claim being revived at a more opportune time, when the House would probably have the support of organised labour. As from Monday, most of the master bakers ceased baking. and though no great shortage of broad was experienced for a day or two, there were not wanting signs that something verging upon a famine of the staff of life was imminent.

The House of Keys meet on Tuesday morning and once more deliberated in private upon the situation. Subsequently the public: were admitted, and the House passed three resolutions as follows: —

(1) That this House desires to make it perfectly clear that it is prepared to pass the Income Tax Bill as speedily as possible, provided the money raised thereby be placed under the control of Tynwald, subject, of course, to the veto of the Lieutenant-Governor.

(2) This House, in view of its readiness to impose Income Tax, and in view of the fact that the Accumulated Fund amounts to the sum of £9l,151, is of the opinion that the flour subsidy can be continued without difficulty; and therefore respectfully requests his Excellency to forthwith place on the agenda of the Tynwald Court a resolution allocating a sum sufficient to continue the subsidy to the end of the financial year.

(3) That this House re-affirms its decision decline to proceed with the imposition of indirect taxation until the question of the subsidy is settled satisfactory.

In each case the resolution was moved Mr T. H. Cormode and was seconded Mr A. H. Teare, the latter being the recently elected member for Ramsey. The resolutions were conveyed to the Governor, who during the afternoon met

Legislative Council and House of Keys in Tynwald. His Excellency re-affirmed that he was not in a position to adopt the solution adumbrated by the Keys and suggested that the House [] to delete from the Income Tax Bill the control clause, whereupon he [] the responsibility of sanction [] renewal of the bread subsidy for a sufficiently long period to enable the Keys and the Treasury to fight out their differences. His Excellency gave the Keys to understand that in such case the House would have his sympathy, and members of the Council. in supporting the Governor's appeal, went to the length of promising to back the Keys in their fight for control should the fight be deferred to a more opportune time. Meanwhile they urged that with a view to avoiding the threatened general strike, the Keys should give way under protest. The elective branch of the Court would have none of the solution suggested, and by way of counter suggestion as good as implored that the Governor should sanction a subsidy and then dissolve the House with a view to the question of control of inland revenue being submitted to the electorate. As neither side would give way, both suggestions failed to materialise, whereupon the Customs resolutions were put to Tynwald. The Council voted unanimously for the resolutions and the Keys were unanimously against, with the result that the resolutions fell and a deadlock came about.

The Labour Leaders at once met in executive, and in view of the proceedings which, had taken place in the Legislature it was decided that a general strike should be proclaimed as from Wednesday night, with a view to influencing the resumption of the ninepenny loaf. It was, enthusiastically determined that such strike should be continuous until the demands of labour were conceded. Undoubtedly the decision was received with great favour by workers in Douglas, and volunteers were quickly forthcoming for the purpose of carrying out the strike arrangements. The public were counselled (by the strike leaders to avail themselves on Wednesday of the opportunity of laying in a stock of flour, and happily, the advice was generally followed, with the result that the strike did not result in any great deficiency in the supply of food.

Such is a summary of the events leading up to the outbreak of the great strike; but it should be mentioned that contributory causes to the discontent which was so effectually demonstrated on Thursday and Friday are to be found in the neglect — contempt were the better word — with which the aspirations of the Manx proletariat have been treated for many years past. The workers of the Island and their supporters in the Insular Press have with almost wearisome iteration clamoured for an equitable adjustment of the incidence of taxation, for Old Age Pensions, National Insurance, and Workmen's Compensation, and always their clamour has failed of object. Time and again certain members of the House of Keys have expressed sympathy with democracy's appeals and demands in these respects, but they have stopped at sympathy and have so far found a multitude of excuses for failing to give practical effect to their pious protestations. Eventually the proletariat, rightly or wrongly, came to the conclusion that they were being gulled; indeed the impression got abroad that all the fulminations of the Keys with regard to financial control were so much flapdoodle and had for ulterior motive the defeat of direct taxation, with consequent postponement for an indefinite period of Old Age Pensions, National Insurance, and Workmen's Compensation. Then came the withdrawal of the ninepenny loaf, and with this the measure of the workers' discontent overflowed. Hence the general strike which paralysed the Isle of Man for two days.


Notwithstanding the determined attitude of labour in Douglas and the reports of sympathetic action in other parts of the Island, large numbers of people believed that at the last moment the strike movement would collapse. These doubtful folk were quickly disillusioned. The employees at several important works in the Douglas district intimated on Wednesday night that they had " finished" pending an understanding being arrived at that the ninepenny loaf would be promptly renewed. The Salisbury Hall was used as the strike headquarters, and here a committee composed of Trade Union leaders sat continuously for the next two days.


On Thursday morning it came as a bombshell that the mail and passenger steamer service between the Island and the mainland had been held up. The seamen and firemen engaged on the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's vessels are to a man in. the Sailors' and Firemen's Union, and they refused to work so long as the strike remained in operation.

Accordingly the steamer which in the ordinary course should have left Douglas for Liverpool on Thursday morning did not sail, and remained in the former port, mulch to the concern and inconvenience of those visitors who desired to return to England. Intending passengers were advised by the Steam Packet Company officials to remain on board or to come to the boat at intervals of an hour, in the hope that the strike conditions would be removed, and the advice was generally followed. In the afternoon, however, in became certain that the Douglas-Liverpool service could not be resumed for the day, and time-expired visitors had to make the best of the situation by returning to their lodgings. Generally they accepted the situation philosophically, though several grumbled sorely that a Manx domestic dispute should have placed them in what mss undoubtedly a very awkward predicament. As to the steamer announced to leave Liverpool for Douglas on Thursday, the strike suspension did not apply, the strike leaders having come to an arrangement with the Steam Packet Company that the sailing should be allowed, but that the crews should be withdrawn for the period of the strike upon the vessel's arrival at Douglas. In due course this arrangement was carried out, and it is here convenient to mention that the Tynwald brought nearly 500 passengers. On Friday there was no steamer on the service between the Island and the mainland either way up to a late hour in the afternoon, when the close of the strike rendered resumption possible. Once the strike was over the crews mustered to their quarters with commendable despatch, and a steamer left Douglas for Liverpool at about 4-30 p.m. The service was in full swing on Saturday.


On Wednesday night the Douglas cargo workers, all of whom are in the Dockers' Union, ceased work, and a perfect unanimity prevailed between the men with regard to the strike. Not a hand's turn was done in the way of loading or discharging vessels until the announcement came on Friday afternoon that the strikers had[] their end.


Although the officials of the Isle of Man Railway Company realised that the strike would disorganise traffic on their system to considerable extent, they had strong hopes that a limited train service would be maintained by means of non-union labour, pending a settlement being arrived at. In this hope they were to a large extent disappointed. True, the early trains from the South, West, and North got into Douglas; on Thursday after some delay; while later in the morning a train was sent out from Douglas station. Passengers who managed to, get through by the early train from the South had some lively experiences to relate. A considerable crowd had gathered in Castletown station, and there demonstrated to much purpose in support of the strike. They released the men engaged in working train in, terms the reverse of complimentary, and eventually induced the driver and guard to quit their posts. Many patrons who had intended journeying by the train from Castletown to Douglas were prevented from doing so, among them being the High-Bailiff of Douglas and Castletown, who had to forego the sitting of his weekly court at Douglas. The train arriving from North and Peel: found some difficulty in consequence of the gates at certain level crossings being closed. The train had to be brought up at these points the while the guards opened the obstructions. [] before noon the attitude of the _ :as crowd in sympathy with the strikers compelled the total suspension of service on the system pending settlement. . concourse largely composed of women children, who yelled and cheered [], proceeded to the Douglas station and persuaded the man in charge of the signal-box to leave work. The labour demonstrated in such effective manner as to induce the clerical staff in the company's offices to clear out. These aims accomplished, the demonstrators []. In the afternoon, however an impression got abroad that an attempt was to be made to send out a train [] South for the conveyance of persons who had arrived by the steamer.

This caused the assemblage of another crowd at the Douglas station, and the gathering had the effect of causing, any employees left on the premises to cease from working. To make assurance doubly sure that no, train should leave, it is said that the crowd raked out the fires from under the boiler of an engine that had steam up. After this there was no attempt to resume train service, and suspension obtained until the close of the strike on Friday afternoon.



A large proportion of the working staff ; of the Manx Electric Tramways Company consists of members of the Workers' Union, and these responded to the call to come out on strike by way of protest against the withdrawal of the ninepenny loaf. There was, however, some doubt with regard to the men at the Ramsey terminus, and certain of these employees turned to on Thursday morning. With their help, and the aid of members of the office staff who have had experience of the running of electric cars, the early morning service between Ramsey and Douglas was for a time maintained. A car was got in, from Ramsey, and another was got away about noon, but in, the meantime the regular motor-men and guards who, had come in from Ramsey left work, and members of the administrative staff were thrown upon their own resources. It was, however, hoped by the management that it would be possible to maintain a limited service, but in this the management did not count upon the attitude of the strikers, which soon, grew very aggressive. The Strike Committee organised a meeting which was held at the Jubilee Clock shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday, and at this meeting it was decided to bring pressure to bear with a view to securing the total suspension of the service. A procession. over half-a-mile long was formed. and this gathering proceeded along the Promenade. Outside the boarding-house where Baron von Bissing resides there was a demonstration, the crowd expressing their dislike for that somewhat favoured German nobleman




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