The British General Strike of 1926

The General strike of 1926, lasting from the 4th – 12th of May, was the largest industrial dispute in Britain’s history.[1] The mass strike movement occurred during a time of economic hardship within Britain, as they tried to recover from the First World War. The war is also particularly relevant to the General Strike, as arguably its end sparked the tensions that were central to the event. The government had taken direct control of the mines during WWI in order to ensure efficient production and consumption to help fuel the war effort. However, after the war, the mines were handed back to private owners.[2] These private owners demanded longer hours but less money from their miners, and those that refused lost their jobs and were locked out of the mines should they cause trouble.

This maltreatment of British miners prompted the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to call a sympathetic strike, beginning at a minute to midnight on the 3rd of May 1926. The strike saw workers from industries including bus, rail, dock, printing, gas, electricity, building, iron, steel and chemical related jobs.[3] All shared one goal. Stop the government and private owners from enforcing a 13% wage reduction for miners, as well as a working day that would increase from 7 hours to 8.[4] Even by the very first day, between 1.5-1.75 million workers were on strike in Britain, and the transport, printing and food industries collapsed.[5] Rioting and police confrontations occurred across the country, and support for the strike was nationwide. PM Stanley Baldwin also attempted to return the country to peace and stability through a number of radio broadcasts and articles in the Winston Churchill-edited British Gazette, promising that should the country place their faith in him, normality would be reinstated.

The strike, despite mass support, was ultimately unsuccessful. The government had been preparing for around 9 months for the strikes, as well as paying the mine owners subsidies to deal with the lack of workers.[6] This preparation time allowed for an army of volunteers to be organised and then called upon to return stability to the country, through driving buses and making food deliveries etc. Furthermore, the army was also deployed in order to protect these volunteers doing their job.[7]

The lasting impact of the General Strike is also seen in the establishment of the 1927 Trades Dispute Act, which banned sympathetic striking. Although repealed in 1946, Margaret Thatcher brought it back in the 1980s and it remained in place.[8]

Image Retrieved from https://www.marxist.com/britain-1926-general-strike-revolution.htm (Socialist Appeal).


[1] The National Archives (The Cabinet Papers). (n.d.). The General Strike. Retrieved from https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/alevelstudies/the-general-strike.htm.

[2] Working Class Movement Library. (n.d.). General Strike of 1926. Retrieved from https://www.wcml.org.uk/our-collections/protest-politics-and-campaigning-for-change/general-strikes/general-strike-of-1926/.

[3] BBC News. (2011). What was the General Strike of 1926? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13828537.

[4] BBC News. (2011).

[5] BBC News. (2011).

[6] Working Class Movement Library. (n.d.).

[7] BBC News. (2011).

[8] BBC News. (2011).

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