This Week in History: End of the British General Strike, 13 May 1926

It is 91 years to the day since Britain came as close as it ever has to a proletarian revolution. From the 3-13 May 1926, the general strike called by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in sympathy with striking miners saw the open confrontation of class interests, with de facto dual power operating across much of the country and armoured cars on London’s streets.

It began as a simple industrial dispute between miners and other allied industries over pay cuts and working hours. In 1925, with no concessions forthcoming from the employers, the Triple Alliance of mining, rail and maritime unions threatened strike action that would paralyse the economy. Here, the government of the time stepped in, promising a nine-month subsidy to the industry and setting up the Samuel Commission to investigate a solution. While work was underway on the inquiry, whose humiliating terms were to be rejected by the miners, the government began preparations for the administration and control of the country in the event of a strike. Among the organisations it established was the 100,000 strong volunteer Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS), whose recruits were largely from the spooked middle class and employed as strike-breakers. Civil Commissioners were appointed to run the 10 regions into which Britain would be divided. With all this unknown to them, the TUC took the decision to launch a general strike in support of the miners on 1 May.

On the very first day of the strike (3 May), workers at the Daily Mail refused to print an article that called the strike revolutionary in nature. This potential difficulty in disseminating government-approved news led ministers to consider bringing the BBC directly under government control, as documents freely available at the National Archives show. The Councils of Action set up by local Trade Union Councils became to varying degrees a threat to the so-called Constitutional Government at Westminster, as the movement attracted widespread popular support. Eventually, with events taking on a revolutionary character and spiralling out of their control, TUC leaders capitulated to the government and announced an end to the strike in an historic betrayal from which the labour movement in Britain was never to recover.

 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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