The General Strike was the most significant British labour dispute of the twentieth century. It was a huge solidarity action in support of the miners' union.
The mines had been taken under government control during the First World War but were handed back to private ownership once the War ended. The miners were locked out and forced back to work after three months on strike protesting against wage cuts.
In June 1925 the mine-owners announced that they were going again to cut wages, and also to increase hours. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) offered its support to the miners' union the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, including strike action. Faced with a simultaneous mining and transport strike which it felt it could not defeat at this point, the Tory government offered a subsidy to the mining industry to maintain wages for a further nine months. It used the time gained to make extensive preparations.
Negotiations between the miners and mine-owners failed and with 800,000 coal miners locked out, the General Strike began on 3 May 1926. The TUC limited participants to railwaymen, transport workers, printers, dockers, ironworkers and steelworkers. The immediate and overwhelming response from the working class surprised both the TUC and the Government. 1.7 million workers went on strike especially in transport, bringing transport systems to a halt, and heavy industry, while newspapers were not printed.
The government had prepared for the strike over a period of nine months during which it provided a subsidy to the mine-owners. Using the Emergency Powers Act 1920 it set up the Organisation for Maintenance of Supplies. The authorities used volunteers (middle class university students etc) to run trains and buses and sent in troops to move supplies from the London docks. There were clashes between police and crowds in many areas and at least 4,000 strikers were arrested. There were attacks on buses and trains, including the derailing of the Flying Scotsman.
The strike was called off unilaterally by the TUC on 12 May with no guarantees of fair treatment for the miners - who fought on to bitter defeat in October.
The 1927 Trades Disputes and Trade Unions Act forbade sympathetic strikes and mass picketing. Trade union members had to contract in to the political levy. Civil Service unions were forbidden to affiliate to the TUC
The miners held out for a while but were starved back to work. Some were victimised and remained unemployed for many years.
The strike had little impact on trade union activity or industrial relations. Locally, many working people felt empowered by an experience which changed their outlook on the world and radicalised them.
Opinions of the day
Daily Mail: ‘A general strike is not an industrial dispute. It is a revolutionary move which can only succeed by destroying the government and subverting the rights and liberties of the people’
King George V ‘Try living on their wages before you judge them’
TUC, in the British Worker – ‘We are not making war on the people’
Resources in the Library about the 1926 General Strike
Tom Browd, The social general strike: why 1926 failed (ca.1927) - Shelfmark: AG General Strike Box 1
Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein, Marxism and trade union struggle: the general strike of 1926 (1986) - Shelfmark: M08
R Palme Dutt, The meaning of the general strike (ca.1926) - Shelfmark: AG Communist Party of Great Britain Box 3
Keith Laybourn, The general strike of 1926 (1993) - Shelfmark: M05
John McLean, The 1926 general strike in Lanarkshire - Our HIstory, Pamphlet 65 - Shelfmark: AB Periodicals main sequence
Bill Moore, The general strike in Sheffield: documents of the strike (1986) - Shelfmark: AG General Strike Box 2
Local news-sheets produced mainly by striking workers (the printers supported the strike so there are few newspapers) e.g. Altrincham Express, Hackney Piano Worker, Westminster Worker (all in AG General Strike – Periodicals A-Z box)
Strike Committee papers e.g. Nuneaton Central Strike Committee (AG General Strike – Box 4)
At the time of the General Strike the coal mine employers produced a pamphlet called The miners’ next step, the same title as a pamphlet produced in 1913 by the Unofficial Reform Committee of the MFGB. The mine owners seem to have been aware of the revolutionary objectives of this committee for some time, and to have seen it as a Bolshevik threat to the industry. The Library has copies of both pamphlets.
AJ Cook, The nine days: the story of the General Strike told by the miners' secretary (ca.1927) - Shelfmark: AG General Strike Box 1
Alfred Jenkin, Bolton in 1926 (Undated typescript) - Shelfmark: AGGeneral Strike Box 4, Manchester folder
Transcripts of tape recordings with veterans of the General Strike in Nottingham - Shelfmark: AG General Strike Box 4
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