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The 1926 General Strike

 

Due to the First World War there had been a great demand for coal in the United Kingdom to fuel the war materials industries.  This resulted in a depletion of the rich coal deposits that had supplied the UK so well for many years.  During the War exports of coal from the UK dropped resulting in a void that was quickly filled by other countries such as the United States, Poland and Germany.  As coal prices continued to fall, in the post War years, Germany was allowed to re-enter the international coal market and started to export “free coal” as part of their reparations for the Great War.  These German exports further hurt the export of coal from the UK and profits dwindled even further. In a move to buoy up profits the mine owners decided to lower the miners’ wages and extend the hours of work. 

 

The result was that on 4 May, 1926 the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called for a General Strike with the intention of forcing the British government to take action to prevent wage reductions and help the 800,000 locked out coal miners. This resulted in 1.7 million workers walking off the job and joining the strike.  As the strike gained momentum people both in the government and the TUC itself feared that the General Strike could escalate into a wide spread revolution. King George V took exception to this suggestion of “revolutionaries” and said, “Try living on their wages before you judge them”. The TUC made a statement in an effort to ease the tension the public might be feeling in regard to such a wide-spread action and allegations that there were revolutionary elements in the trade unions, “We are not making war on the people. We are anxious that the ordinary members of the public shall not be penalized for the unpatriotic conduct of the mine owners and the government”.  In a cautionary move the government put in place a militia of special constables called the Organization for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS).  Their purpose was to maintain the peace on the streets. 

 

There was intervention on a couple of occasions by the army; however, it was decided in a move to prevent escalation of violence, that the soldiers were to be unarmed.  On 7 May, 1926 the TUC met with government representatives to work out a set of proposals to end the strike. On 12 May, 1926, nine days after the strike had been called, the TUC announced its decision to call off the strike.  The end result was that many men were not called back to work as the government had stated that they did not have the authority to force the mine owners to employ all of their former employees.  Those who were called back did so at lower wages and longer hours, which was the original intention of the mine owners.

 

This was the only general strike in the history of Brittan and many trade unionists felt it had been a mistake, opting for political and legal resolutions in the future.  Those OMS special constables were relieved of their duties later in the month of May and today we have certificates of appreciation issued to those Special Constables as lasting artifacts of The General Strike of 1926. 

 

Regards

Brian

 

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