ENG: A general strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region, or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants. It is also characterized by participation of workers in a multitude of workplaces, and tends to involve entire communities. The general strike has waxed and waned in popularity since the mid-19th century, and has characterized many historically important strikes.
1926 United Kingdom general strike
The 1926 general strike in the United Kingdom was a general strike that lasted nine days, from 4 May 1926 to 13 May 1926. It was called by the general council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in an unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for coal miners.
Causes of the 1926 conflict
- The First World War: The heavy domestic use of coal in the war meant that rich seams were depleted. Britain exported less coal in the war than it would have done in peacetime, allowing other countries to fill the gap.
The United States, Poland and Germany and their strong coal industries benefited in particular.
- Productivity, which was at its lowest ebb. Output per man had fallen to just 199 tonnes in 1920–4, from 247 tonnes in the four years before the war, and a peak of 310 tons in the early 1880s. Total coal output had been falling since 1914.
- The fall in prices resulting from the 1925 Dawes Plan that, among other things, allowed Germany to re-enter the international coal market by exporting "free coal" to France and Italy as part of their reparations for the First World War.
- The reintroduction of the gold standard in 1925 by Winston Churchill: this made the British pound too strong for effective exporting to take place from Britain, and also (because of the economic processes involved in maintaining a strong currency) raised interest rates, hurting all businesses.
- Mine owners wanted to normalise profits even during times of economic instability — which often took the form of wage reductions for miners in their employ. Coupled with the prospect of longer working hours, the industry was thrown into disarray.
Mine owners therefore announced that their intention was to reduce miners' wages, the MFGB rejected the terms: "Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day." and the TUC responded to this news by promising to support the miners in their dispute. The Conservative government under Stanley Baldwin decided to intervene, declaring that they would provide a nine-month subsidy to maintain the miners' wages and that a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel would look into the problems of the mining industry.
This decision became known as "Red Friday" because it was seen as a victory for working-class solidarity and Socialism.
In practice, the subsidy gave the mine owners and the government time to prepare for a major labour dispute. Herbert Smith (a leader of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain) said of this event: "We have no need to glorify about victory. It is only an armistice."
The Samuel Commission published a report on March 10, 1926 recommending that in the future, national agreements, the nationalisation of royalties and sweeping reorganisation and improvement should be considered for the mining industry. It also recommended a reduction by 13.5% of miners' wages along with the withdrawal of the government subsidy. Two weeks later, the prime minister announced that the government would accept the report provided other parties also did.
A previous royal commission, the Sankey Commission, had recommended nationalisation a few years earlier to deal with the problems of productivity and profitability in the industry, but Lloyd George, then prime minister, had rejected its report.
After the Samuel Commission's report, the mine owners declared that, on penalty of lock out from 1 May, miners would have to accept new terms of employment that included lengthening the work day and reducing wages between 10% and 25%, depending on various factors. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) refused the wage reduction and regional negotiation.