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The General Strike of 1926

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Industry, Labour Party, London on Tuesday, 26 February 2013

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This edited article about the General Strike originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 161 published on 13 February 1965.

General Strike, picture, image, illustration

In London crowds watched convoys of army trucks loaded with food and guarded by armoured cars, go past.

At pit heads all over Britain on the last day of April, 1926, miners coming off work found the men of the new shift clustered around notices pasted on the mine building walls.

Those who stopped and read them discovered to their dismay that the government was no longer prepared to subsidize the mines. The mine owners, said the notices, therefore regretted that the miners would have to take a cut in wages.

Soon, above the row of the noisy discussion and argument, one word was heard again and again – strike! The next day, May 1, the pits were silent and empty.

Within hours, other British unions declared that unless the Trades Union Congress and the government could find a solution to the coal miners’ problem by midnight of May 3-4 they would strike in sympathy.

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative Government decided to take several precautionary measures just in case no solution was found. The Army was called in to transport food and blankets. And the public transport was commandeered.

These severe measures were very soon proved to be justified, for the T.U.C. and the government failed to settle their differences. And so, at midnight on May 3-4, all forms of communication in Britain suddenly came to a halt. Trains, buses and trams stopped where they were. Dock workers loading a ship left their loading basket swinging in space.

In London crowds of men assembled in the streets and watched convoys of army trucks loaded with food and guarded by armoured cars, go past. Hyde Park was used as a distribution centre for milk and bread.

In the mining areas, miners’ families settled down for a long stretch of poverty. Housewives carefully guarded the family savings so that the money would last longer.

Normal newspapers did not appear and the Government published a daily British Gazette. Broadcasting, three years old, first showed how useful it could be in an emergency.

By May 8 amateur train drivers were making slow cross-country journeys. Volunteers manned the London bus and underground services. Each driver had a policeman next to him, to prevent him being attacked by angry strikers.

Nine days after the General Strike began the T.U.C. expected that the government would compromise with the miners, so they stopped the strike. The date then was May 12. But when the government proposed the compromise to the mining unions they refused to accept it.

For another terrible six months the miners held on; their families slowly starving and their clothes in tatters. Winter closed in, and the weather turned cold. But no smoke came from the chimneys of the mining towns. They could not afford the coal they used to mine – and even if they could there was nobody mining it.

Cold and hunger finally forced the miners to give in. Frustrated, angry and embittered, they shuffled back to work for the same reduced wage that had been proposed six months earlier.

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