While the struggle for ‘Votes for Women’ was at its height, another struggle was entering a potentially decisive phase. An organised Labour movement had been growing in strength since the middle of the nineteenth century. Socialist ideas began to spread in Britain in the 1880s and by the turn of the century a separate Labour party was in existence to challenge the parliamentary duopoly of the Liberals and Conservatives. In the Edwardian era the Labour challenge intensified. Twenty-nine Labour MPs were returned at the general election of 1906, 40 in January 1910. The trade union movement doubled in size between 1901 and 1914, from two million to four million members. The years 1910–14 were marked by the ‘Great Labour Unrest’, with national strikes in major industries, violence in industrial areas and the threat of Syndicalist-inspired ‘Direct Action’, causing some writers to discern a quasi-revolutionary disposition on the part of certain groups of workers which endangered the structures of parliamentary government and the system of liberal capitalism on which they were built. Even if the ‘workers’ revolt’ was less revolutionary in its implications than this view would allow, the ‘Labour Question’ was one of the most serious aspects of the Edwardian crisis with which the Liberal government elected in 1906 had to deal.
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