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Why did the General Strike of 1926 fail and what were the consequences of its failure

The TUC who represents the miners, was under the strong impression that a “threat” of a General Strike was sufficient enough to bring results. They underestimated Baldwin’s and the mine owners’ obstinacy. Relying strongly on the Samuel Commission to find a way out, the TUC was not at all prepared for a General Strike.The threat of the TUC was not forceful enough to instill fear in the government. In fact, the government was better prepared for the strike and they knew that the TUC had made very few plans. The miners were represented by a weak body and the government knew that the TUC was not wholehearted and gullible to government tactics.However by the 11th May (8th day of the strike) there was no sign that the government would give way. When Sir Herbert Samuel offered to act as Mediator, the TUC accepted. On the 12th May, the TUC called off the Strike, hoping that the Samuel Memorandum (suggesting a short-term renewal of the subsidy to maintain wage levels, no wage reductions until reorganization was assured, and a National Wages Board) would be accepted, though it was strictly unofficial and Baldwin had given no guarantees. Since the mine-owners refused to compromise, the coal strikes dragged on until December. In the end the miners had to give way and go back to longer hours and lower wages. There was much bitterness about the TUC’s ‘betrayal’.After the General Strike, membership of unions dropped from a total of 5.5 million before the strike to 4.9 million in 1927, reaching a lowest point of 4.4 million by 1933. The TUC abandoned the idea of a General Strike convinced that one could never succeed. There were no solutions to the problems in the coal industry and no modernization. The industry continued in slow decline with exports falling steadily. 73 million tons had been exported in 1913; by 1929 the figure had fallen to 60 million tons, and even more disastrously to 39 million tons in 1932.The government introduced the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 which was designed to make another general strike impossible. Sympathetic strikes and intimidation were made illegal, and union funds could be seized during a dispute. Trade union members were not required to contribute to the union’s political fund unless they chose to and gave written notice of their intention. The new Act placed the responsibility on the members; many did not bother to contract in, and this caused a fall of over 25 percent in the Labour Party’s income. In the 1929 General Election, the Conservative lost to the Labour Party.b) How would you evaluate these issues and what is your overall judgement?The strike failed because it was represented poorly by the TUC; it was called off too soon and it was not organised. There was confusion over which workers would support the miners. The TUC decided that only essential workers like railway workers and printers would be called out. As it turned out many non-essential workers like textile operatives struck work. Lack of organisation meant that trades council controlled events at local level. The effect of the strike was reduced by internal difficulties and union bureaucratic confusion. To have 400 to 500 councils of action managing the strike was inefficient.The TUC called of the General Strike so soon because it was dismayed when at the end of the first week there was no sign of a softening in the government’s attitude, in fact the extremist in the cabinet were talking about “unconditional surrender”. The TUC completely unprepared for a general strike was anxious to end it before provocative government actions caused events to take a more violent turn. As we can see, the TUC feared the government more instead of the opposite. The TUC was also doubtful about their legal positions- Sir John Simon, a Liberal MP who was also a lawyer, said in the House of Commons that the strike was an “Illegal proceeding” , not an industrial dispute, and that the leaders were liable to be sued for damages-“to the utmost farthing” of their possessions- and then sent to jail. The Labour party’s attitude was unhelpful- MacDonald was against sympathetic strikes and was afraid that they would simply lose the party votes. The strike was proving too expensive- the TUC had already used �4 million out of their total strike fund of �12.5 million.Government propaganda reflected badly on the miners and the General strike through the British Gazette (the government emergency newspaper) which printed uncompromising articles and fighting exhortations to the police and special constables, despite the TUC giving strict orders that all violence was to be avoided. It was Churchill’s idea to use armoured cars to protect food convoys “we are at war” he declared; “we must go through with it; either we crush the strike or the strike will crush us” in fact the special constables had been protecting the food convoys perfectly well.A more sympathetic view towards the government is that Baldwin played a skilful waiting game, knowing full well that the TUC had no stomach for a prolonged strike. He took the view that the strike was an attack on the constitution and not an ordinary industrial dispute; therefore he refused to negotiate until the strike was called off. He concentrated on emergency plans prepared months earlier (Unlike the TUC) which worked efficiently. Volunteers kept food supply moving, unloaded ships and drove trains and buses. In a broadcast on 8 May Baldwin told the country that he was a man of peace and appealed to the strikers to trust to him to secure a fair deal for everybody. This as we know, did not materialise.Whichever view one accepts the fact remains that the General Strike failed and the government claimed the credit.The strength of the government over the Union brought a great realization to the working class; that is parliamentary actions offered the best chance of achieving their aim. The drop in Union membership was caused by the working-class disillusionment with the TUC and their concentration on political actions through parliament.Had the mine-owners adhered to the Samuel Commission, modernisation could have been enforced and the General Strike could have been avoided, Baldwin is partly responsible for this failure because he chose to not enforce acceptance of the Samuel Commission. The coal industry was still using traditional hand picking method; only 20 percent of its output was produced by coal-cutting machines. The government had refused to nationalise the mines, though it was widely believed that only government control could bring about the essential modernisation that would enable the industry to survive, because the government would have the budget required to finance machineries required for modernisation. Mine-owners were unwilling to take the initiative and were penny-pinchers.The Trade Disputes Act of 1927 seems to have been largely unnecessary since the TUC had had enough of the general strikes. Baldwin gave way to Conservative right -wingers who had been trying since the war to limit the rights of trade unions. It was bitterly resented by the Union but was not repealed until 1946.Bitterness at the Trade Disputes Act and unemployment standing at over a million helped to bring the trade unionists and the Labour party together again. There was a big surge in support for Labour which must have been partly responsible for the Labour victory. Labour programme played down full socialism and concentrated on immediate reform. The Conservative Party’s attitude towards the miners probably alienated much of their normal support among working men, the Trade Disputes Act did backfire on the government giving the trade unions and the Labour Party a common cause.Although the General Strike failed, it was not without some beneficial effects for the workers. It acted as a warning to other employers who, on the whole, were more reasonable than the mine-owners and avoided drastic wage reductions. Some employers made genuine efforts to improve labour relations; for example, Sir Alfred Mond, founder of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), began a series of talks with Ernest Bevin of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and with other leading Trade Unionists.In my judgement, the issues of the General Strike run deeper than these key events such as the Unions and the Trade Disputes Act. These are just one of the many consequences of the government’s indolent attitude and their ignorance in structuring a strong economic plan. The government refused to make changes that would compromise their very own financial comfort. The problems and the comforts of the lower classes matter not to the government because they had no status in society, and they were wrongly ignored.

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