Who were the syndicalists?

Posted by on July 8, 2011

Syndicalists like Tom Mann (pictured below) and Ben Tillett (pictured bottom of page), who was the star speaker at the Llanelli mass protest a month after the shootings, were part of an international revolutionary movement.  Revolutionary syndicalism swept many parts of Europe, the USA, Latin America and Australia between the 1890s and the 1920s. Its aim was to overthrow capitalism through industrial class struggle and build a new socialistic order free from oppression, in which workers would be in control.Change would come neither through parliamentary pressure nor a political insurrection leading to state socialism, but would be achieved through direct action and the general strike, winning  workers’ control over the economy and society.  Syndicalists concentrated on the revolutionary potential of working-class organisation, notably the trade unions. The unions would serve both as organisers of class warfare and as the nuclei of the post-revolutionary society.


There is some debate about how significant a factor syndicalism was during the Great Unrest of 1910-1914. Although there was no evidence of the involvement of named syndicalists among the railworkers of Llanelli in the strike of 1911, the dockers’ leader Ben Tillet was active in the area, standing (unsuccessfully)  in Swansea in the general election of 1910. He was the star speaker at the Llanelli rally in September 1911, where he said: “Let the labourer rise in his wrath, in his dignity, in his mightiness and say: ‘I will be a man, my children shall be fed, my manhood shall be established or, by God, I will fight the powers that oppress me.”


There was also a strong syndicalist presence on the national railway network, and among many of the miners of south Wales, like Noah Ablett, who, as part of the Unofficial Reform Committee, wrote the influential pamphlet The Miners’ Next Step in 1911, calling for rank-and-file control of a fighting union. Disillusionment with Labour in parliament was feeding the growth of direct action. A syndicalist leaflet called on strikers in the small Bristol coalfield to: “Fight for yourselves…Leaders only want your votes; they will sell you. They lie, Parliament lies and will not help you, but is trying to sell you…. Such sentiments had real resonance for British workers in 1911.




3 Responses to Who were the syndicalists?

  1. Jayne Jordan

    Ben Tillett was my 2nd great grand uncle.

    Benjamin Tillett (1860 – 1943)
    is your 2nd great grand uncle
    Benjamin Tillett (1821 – 1888)
    Father of Benjamin
    Thomas Tillett 1922 (1848 – 1930)
    Son of Benjamin
    Benjamin George Tillett (1868 – 1922)
    Son of Thomas
    John Tillett (1897 – 1939)
    Son of Benjamin George
    James Tillett (1925 – 2011)
    Son of John
    Jayne Veronica Tillett
    I now live in Trimsaran which is close to Llanelli and shop there, my husband works there.. We’ve lived here for ten years.

    • Llanelli Strike Comittiee

      I definitely have to hear more about this. I was already really interested in this guy, and some of the contradictions in his life. Can i come and interview you?

  2. Llanelli Strike Comittiee

    The syndicalists were a really interesting assortment of revolutionaries who played an important part in the uprisings of 1910-14. Best book is Bob Holton’s “British Syndicalism 1910-14” (not sure if still in print – try Bookmarks)

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