general strikes in the united kingdom

map of the united kingdom

1926, may ? - 12 - bureaucracy-controlled general strike fails
in april of 1921, miners, railwaymen and transport workers unions called for a transport strike in response to a mine owners' announcement of wage reductions and posting of lock out notices. union leadership called off the strike in the eleventh hour, forcing workers to return to work on the owners terms. in addition to weakening the strength of these unions and feuling the growth of the british communist party, this event, which became known as "black friday," foreshadowed the general strike of may 1926.

while mine owners agreed to wage increases in 1924, the mining industry suffered from an economic crisis in 1925. owners demanded that their workers return to the wages and working hours of 1921. when the miners, railwaymen and transport workers responded with an embargo on the transportation of coal, the government stepped in. the government agreed to provide a nine month subsidy to maintain the miners wages until may 1, 1926, at which point a royal commission would give a ruling on how to resolve the conflict. hailed by union leadership as a victory for labor, the subsidy and royal commission, in fact, gave the mine owners and the british government time to prepare for a major labor dispute. it also gave union leaders time to maneuver themselves into a position to control the labor side of the dispute, rather than themselves to get swept aside by spontaneous mass action.

when the may 1 ruling of the royal commission came, the recommendation came as no surprise: a "temporary" reduction in wages and an increase in hours, in order to save the industry's profitability. the union leadership, terrified by revolutionary influences within the labor movement, maintained a tight control of the ensuing general strike and subverted any independent action on the part of rank-and-file workers. meanwhile, business owners, with the enthusiastic support of the royal government, organized an effective scab labor force.

with a primary focus on restraining its own membership, unions entered the general strike of 1926 very poorly prepared. nine days after it started, the general strike was called off. initially thinking itself victorious, workers reacted angrily upon realizing how soundly they had been defeated. ironically, the union leadership's efforts to stifle its radical wing had a contrary effect. in the months following the strike, communist party membership swelled while unions lost 2 million members.

for more, visit the home page (now offline) of the communist workers' organization

1918, april 23 - general strike ends conscription of irishmen into british army

earlier in the year, british parliament voted to extend conscription to ireland. the trade unions met this with a general strike on april 23. everything stopped, apart from in the region around belfast. the british government took fright and scrapped their plans to draft irishmen into the trenches of france and belgium. the victory gave confidence to workers to struggle against their bosses as well as the government.

from workers solidarity, a publication of the workers solidarity movement.

1842 - the world's first organized general strike

this first strike began with a strike by coal miners against a reduction in wages, but developed, through the efforts of labor leaders, into a mass protest by workers in many industries and across several english counties in favor of the people's charter, a proposal that would have increased the representation of the working classes in parliament. established trade unions opposed the strike, and it failed after about two months, when hunger and government deployment of troops and artillery forced the workers to return to their jobs.

exerpted from zachary m. schrag's thesis: the boston police strike in the context of american labor (now offline).

the world : europe : united kingdom