|The General Strike
In the years before the First World War there was widespread industrial unrest in Britain. It was caused by the arrival of Syndicalism from France and the USA, as well as by rising prices and the effects of foreign competition. Unrest came to an end in August 1914 when the First World War broke out, but restarted in 1919 when the government began to return the industries that had been taken over during the war to private ownership.
Attention soon focused upon the plight of the miners and from 1919 to 1926 they fought a battle to preserve wages and conditions. Finally, in May 1926, they went on strike and were supported by about 4,000,000 other workers.
Why were the miners treated so badly and why did a general strike take place in 1926? These are some of the questions that you will be answering when you tackle these questions.
SOURCE A: Two graphs produced in the 1970s
SOURCE B: A photograph taken in the early 1920s of miners and their families gathering coal
SOURCE C: Part of a history book written in the 1960s
By 1925 the British coal industry was in a serious depression. It was still the country’s largest industry with a labour force of 1,000,000 men, but from a prosperous period in the early 1920s it had declined so that 79% of pits were producing at a loss. There were some 2,500 pits operated by 1,400 different owners. The industry lacked investment, the machinery was old-fashioned and the management was incompetent. When cheap Polish and German coal flooded the market after 1923, forcing world prices down, the industry sank into crisis and the miners were forced into poverty.
SOURCE D: Part of an article published in the Brighton Herald, 17 April 1926
OMS, as some of our readers will remember, stands for Organisation for the maintenance of Supplies, which came into being some months ago. At present unofficial, but well prepared, the organisation is intended to be the official means of resisting any Labour attempt to paralyse the essential industries of the country. It is now appealing to all who believe in the maintenance of public order in England to enrol themselves as volunteers for whatever service they may be called upon to do, or mat be able to perform.
SOURCE E: A cartoon published in a daily newspaper in April 1926
SOURCE F: The results of the TUC ballot on strike action to support the miners
SOURCE G: A poster that was published during the General Strike
MESSAGE FROM THE
is being attacked.
Let all good citizens whose livelihood and labour have thus been put in peril bear with fortitude and patience the hardships with which they have been so suddenly confronted.
Stand behind the Government who are doing their part
Confident that you will co-operate in the measures they have undertaken to preserve the liberties and privileges of the people of these islands.
The Laws of England are the People’s birthright.
The laws are in your keeping.
You have made Parliament their guardian
The General Strike is a challenge to Parliament and is the road to anarchy and ruin.
SOURCE H: Part of an article published in the Daily Mail on 3 May 1926
The general strike is not an industrial dispute; it is a revolutionary movement, intended to inflict suffering upon the great mass of innocent persons in the community and thereby force the government to give way.
SOURCE I: Part of an article published in the British Worker during the general strike
The General Council of the TUC does not challenge the Constitution. It is not seeking to substitute unconstitutional government. Nor is it trying to undermine our Parliamentary institutions. The sole aim of the Council is to secure for the miners a decent standard of life. The Council is engaged in an industrial dispute. There is no Constitutional crisis
SOURCE J: A cartoon published in a daily newspaper during the general strike
Short essay questions.
Describe events in the coal industry from 1919 to 1925?
Why did a general strike take place in 1926?
How important was the government’s use of propaganda in bringing the strike to an early end?
(Total: 50 Marks)
1. Study Source A
What can you learn from Source A about the working conditions of miners in the early 1920s?
2. Study Sources A, B and C
Does the evidence of Source C support the evidence of Sources A and B about the working conditions of miners? Explain your answer.
3. Study Sources D, E and F
How useful are Sources D, E and F in helping you to understand why the general strike began in May 1926?
4. Study Sources G and H
Use Sources G and H, and your own knowledge, to explain the government tried to defeat the general strike.
5. Study all of the sources
‘The main reason for the collapse of the general strike was the governments use of propaganda against the TUC.’
Use the sources and your own knowledge to explain whether you agree with this view.
(Total: 50 marks)