The General Strike 1926
In May 1926 Britains' miners walked out and in a move of solidarity other industry workers joined them, creating the first ever general strike in Britain. Was Britain on the verge of a revolution? This Revision Bite will answer this question and more...
Tuesday 4 May 1926: A general strike is called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to support the miners in their quarrel with the mine owners, who want to reduce their wages by 13 per cent and increase their shifts from seven to eight hours. Huge numbers of road transport, bus, rail, docks, printing, gas and electricity, building, iron, steel, chemicals and coal workers stay off work. JH Thomas, a trade unionist and MP, says: 'God help us unless the government wins'.
Wednesday 5 May: The government acts aggressively against the strike and tries to exert greater control over the media. It attempts to take control of the BBC and publishes a newspaper - 'The British Gazette'. The government also sends a warship to Newcastle, and recruits 226,000 special policemen.
Thursday 6 May: Middle-class volunteers get some buses and trains, and the electricity working. A few buses are set on fire, and there are fights between police and strikers in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister, declares the strike an attack on Britain's democracy.
Friday 7 May: Police and strikers clash in Liverpool, Hull and London. The government calls the army to London. It also seizes all supplies of paper, which hinders publication of the TUC's paper, 'The British Worker'. The TUC is embarrassed when Russian trade unionists send a large donation and it is sent back.
Saturday 8 May: Police make baton-charges on rioting strikers in Glasgow, Hull, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Preston. The number of volunteers increases. The army escorts food lorries from the London docks. Secretly, JH Thomas has talks with the mine owners.
Sunday 9 May: The Roman Catholic Church declares the strike 'a sin'.
Monday 10 May: Some textile workers join the strike. Strikers in Northumberland derail the Flying Scotsman train. Baldwin declares that Britain is 'threatened with a revolution', and the government arrests 374 Communists.
Tuesday 11 May: The TUC, led by JH Thomas, calls off the strike. The strikers are taken by surprise, but drift back to work.
The miners struggle on alone until November when they are forced to go back to work for less pay and longer hours.
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 General Strike was a failure because:
Play the activity - 'Bitesize Brief' to plot a map illustrating the failure of the general strike.
As part of your revision, think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain: