Protest in the 20th century

In the 20th century, Britain became a democracy, with a government that was supposed to be 'by the people for the people'. Most protest, therefore, was peaceful, and attempted to persuade the government to change its mind. Nevertheless, peaceful protests can easily tip over into violence and rioting.

The campaign for women's suffrage (1897‒1928)

Suffragettes showing civil disobedience: Chained to a fence, setting fires, disrupting horse races and protesting.

The Suffragettes (1903) used direct action to get their way. For example, they chained themselves to railings and interrupted meetings.

When Parliament refused to give votes to women, their campaign became more violent as they burned down buildings and planted bombs. Emily Wilding Davison died when she threw herself under a horse.

However, the Suffragists campaigned peacefully, and in 1928, all women were given the vote on the same terms as men.

Trade unions

Trade Union Conference general meeting in 1992

Trade unions grew up in the late 19th century. In 1926 they were sufficiently powerful to mount a General Strike, which lasted ten days.

After World War Two, trade unionists used strikes to get better wages. Although their legal powers were reduced in the 1980s, trade unions still use negotiation, marches and strikes to try to get better wages and conditions for their members.

Northern Ireland (1968‒1998)

  • In 1967, Catholics formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) to campaign for equal voting rights, and an end to gerrymandering and discrimination in jobs and housing.
  • There were other civil rights organisations, including the People's Democracy (PD)
  • When Protestant loyalists attacked civil rights marches, the situation soon descended into violence.
  • Between the summer of 1969 and the end of 2006, a total of 3,717 people, over 2,000 of them civilians, died in Northern Ireland as a direct result of the violence there.
  • The Provisional IRA was responsible for the greatest number of deaths, but loyalist paramilitaries, the police and the British army were also responsible for a large number of those who were killed during these 'Troubles'.

The Miners' Strike (1984‒1985)

Miners striking at a colliery

  • In 1984, the Coal Board announced the closure of 20 pits because they were no longer profitable.
  • Led by Arthur Scargill, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike. The strike turned violent, with frequent clashes between miners and the police. Six miners were killed during the strike.
  • The government had planned for the strike and stockpiled coal, which strengthened their position.
  • After a year most of the miners voted to return to work. The long period without wages had pushed many into poverty.

The Poll Tax Riots (1990)

Poll Tax Riots in London, 1990

  • The government attempted to introduce the Community Charge, also known as the Poll Tax.
  • A march against the new Poll Tax of up to 200,000 people turned into a day of rioting.
  • The resistance to the Community Charge is thought to have contributed to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, resigning.
  • This event could be compared to the Peasants' Revolt.