General Strike 1926
- Date start:
- 3 May 1926
- Date end:
- 13 May 1926
Britain's first and only General Strike began on 3 May 1926, and ended ten days later. The event was a watershed for labour relations in Britain, and bitterly divided opinion.
The strike was called by the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C.) in support of striking coal miners in the North of England, Scotland and Wales. The miners were making a stand against an enforced pay-cut. It was the latest in a long series of industrial disputes that had dogged the coal industry since the end of the First World War and created real hardship for mining families. 'Not a minute on the day, not a penny off the pay', was the miners' slogan.
Although the dispute began in the mining areas, one of the trigger events took place in London, when the Daily Mail's Fleet Street printers refused to print a leading article criticising trade unions. Other print workers also downed tools. The T.U.C. activated its plans for sympathetic strike action and called out all trade union members in essential industries.
From the early hours of Tuesday 3 May, some two million workers went on strike across Britain. In London, the main groups of striking workers were the dockers, printers, power station workers, railwaymen, and transport workers. The aim was to bring the capital to a halt and force the government to intervene on the side of the miners.
For its part, the government brought in the army to ensure that essential services continued and food supplies got through. Army barracks were set up in Hyde Park, which was also turned into a milk and food depot. People who disapproved of the T.U.C. 'holding a pistol to the nation's head' took action themselves, volunteering to work in place of the strikers. London's buses, trams, trains and delivery vans were kept running by a skeleton staff of non-unionised workers and university students.
The Strike put a new focus on the difference between news and propaganda. Winston Churchill, the fiercely anti-strike chancellor of the exchequer, persuaded the government to issue its own newspaper, The British Gazette, to get its views across. This was printed in Paris and flown to London daily. However, he failed to persuade the British Broadcasting Company to use its radio broadcasts for government purposes. With the disappearance of normal daily papers, wireless was the main news medium during the ten-day strike.
Throughout the strike, intense negotiations between the T.U.C. and the government took place at 10 Downing Street. On 13 May, the T.U.C. called off the strike, recognising that the country was somehow muddling through. London's dockers, print workers and transport workers remained out for a further six days in protest at the climb-down. The miners remained locked out until September, and ultimately gained nothing from the episode.
A year later, the government passed a new Trade Disputes Act that effectively outlawed the sympathetic strike action that had created the General Strike.
- The General Strike
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