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History

The General Strike 1926

Why was there a general strike in 1926?

1. Trade Union militancy - 1910-1912 was a period of industrial unrest, and in 1913 the miners', railwaymen's and transport workers' unions formed the Triple Alliance. This included a promise to support each other if there was a strike, although, in fact, on 15 April 1921 - Black Friday - the railway and transport unions failed to support the miners when the mine owners reduced their wages and increased their hours of work.

2. Economic Depression - there were problems in the economy after the war, and in 1925 the government returned to the gold standard - it tied the value of the pound to the amount of gold in the Bank of England. This caused a depression and reduced exports, especially of coal.

3. Fear of Communism - in 1924 the 'Daily Mail' published a supposed letter from the Russian Communist leader Zinoviev to British communists, urging them to start a revolution. It was a forgery, but it frightened middle-class people, and made them determined to oppose the demands of the workers.

4. Problems in the Coal Industry throughout the 1920s -

  • The industry was out of date. Workers were still using pickaxes; only a fifth of the coal was cut by machine.
  • The mine owners response to the Depression was not to modernise, but to cut wages and increase working hours (1921).
  • In 1925, the mine owners tried to cut wages and increase hours again. The Triple Alliance threatened a general strike, so on 31 July 1925 ('Red Friday'), the government paid a nine month subsidy to prop up wages.
  • In March 1926, the government's Samuel Commission suggested cutting wages, but not increasing hours. Both miners and mine owners refused this compromise. Mine owners began drawing up plans to increase hours and cut pay.
  • At the TUC conference on 1st May 1926, a general strike was planned to start two days later. The TUC and the government began negotiations.
  • When print workers refused to print an edition of the 'Daily Mail' attacking the miners as 'a revolutionary movement', negotiations collapsed, and the General Strike went ahead as planned.

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