27th November 1914.

In Edwardian times London police were under strength and pay of less than £2 a week put them on par with labourers.

There had been in the  19th century sporadic action in Newcastle-on-Tyne and other places to improve pay and conditions. By 1913 an anonymous letter in The Police Review raised the issue of a police union.

By the time of World War I with many signing up for the services, Special Constables were recruited and Today in 1914 Britain’s first police-woman went on duty in Grantham.

That decade however proved to be a period of conflict between the police and their Watch Committee employers, resulting in strikes and mutual recrimination.(1)

It was in late August 1918 that London police went on strike for the first time, over demands for unionisation and war bonuses. It was a time of general unrest within the Trades Unions over pay at a time of rocketing prices.(2)

There was a fear of a ‘Red Revolution’, following Russia’s example, and a worry that the police would ally with the workers.

The next day after the strike on August 31st, Prime-Minister Lloyd-George awarded a wage rise, but would not recognize a union in wartime.

A new Commissioner, General Sir Henry Macready was appointed to restore some discipline and order. The Police Federation which represented some form of a collective voice, for the ‘Rank and File’ was now instituted by the government.


Police massing at No.19.

Police, on strike, massing at No.10 Downing Street 1918.

In 1919 The Desborough Committee was appointed to look into police pay and its lack of uniformity throughout the country.

On 1st August 1919 The Police Act passed into law which dealt the death knell to any notion of a union which resulted in a further, though badly supported London strike with demands for reinstatement of those previously sacked.(3)

However in Liverpool on August Bank Holiday 1919 a police strike caused widespread looting and rioting, necessitating the last Riot Act to be read by a magistrates, on the 3rd August.

The next day The Liverpool Daily Post described an ‘orgy of looting and rioting’ for three or four days, and the military and tanks were put on the streets, and warships on the Mersey.

Matters were only resolved with increased police pay after the war which now saw the police being seen as separate from the ‘Workers’.

From now on the police were seen as an arm of state against other worker unrest, as we saw in the disputes of the later 20th century.

The Police Act 1996 banned police from strikes or joining a union.

(1) in June 1919 the London Wartime Specials officially ceased. On the preceding Saturday  (14.6.1919), 17,000 processed past King and Queen at Buckingham Palace.

(2) On 30th August 1918.

(3) The National Police and Prison Officers’ Union (NUPPO) was the banned union.

Ref: whatnextjournal.org.uk/police.

Ref: news.bbc.co.uk/magazine Why Can’t the Police go on Strike/Pic Image.

Ref: wikipedia.org/police_strikes_1918_1919.


World War I with its lack of home (male) supervision was blamed for the growing crime rate which rose from 12,450 to 147,031, with larceny the most prevalent.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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