The Outbreak of the 1926 General Strike (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: The Outbreak of the General Strike

Q1: Study source 1. Explain how the cartoon encourages a hostile view of the mine-owner.

A1: The main objective of the cartoonist was to show that mine-owners were extremely wealthy. This is indicated by the cigar, expensive car and the racehorses. By drawing the mine-owner as being fat suggests that he is both lazy and guilty of over-indulgence.

Q2: Many people believed that the formation of the O.M.S., and the composition of the Samuel Commission, meant that a General Strike was bound to take place. Can you explain why?

A2: The government also established the Organization for the Maintenance of Supplies during the time the Samuel Commission was taking evidence. Some historians take the view that the government wanted to be in a strong position to win a general strike that they knew would take place once the Samuel Commission reported in 1926.

Q3: Give as many reasons as you can why it was in the interests of the Government to delay the possibility of a General Strike for nine months.

A3: If the General Strike took place in August 1925, the mineowners would probably have been defeated. However, by setting up the Samuel Commission and the O.M.S. it gave the government the opportunity to prepare for the strike. It involved the drawing up of lists of volunteers who would keep services going in the event of a general strike. For example, driving trains and buses. Food and fuel depots were also established around the country.

Q4: Compare the views of Arthur J. Cook expressed in sources 9, 10 and 11.

A4: Arthur Horner (source 10) says that although Cook was often "tired, hoarse and sometimes almost inarticulate" he had the ability to "electrify the meeting". He compared Cook's speeches with his own: "I was speaking to the meeting. Cook was speaking for the meeting. He was expressing the thoughts of his audience, I was trying to persuade them. He was the burning expression of their anger at the iniquities which they were suffering."

Kingsley Martin (source 11) admitted that Cook was an effective speaker but was "afraid... of betraying his cause and showing signs of weakness". This made him a poor negotiator: "A man more unable to conduct a negotiation I never saw."

David Kirkwood (source 12) agreed with both Horner and Martin: "Arthur Cook, who talked from a platform like a Salvation Army preacher, had swept over the industrial districts like a hurricane. He was an agitator, pure and simple. He had no ideas about legislation or administration."

Q5: It has been suggested that the "the Daily Mail" incident was a plot between Winston Churchill and Thomas Marlowe, the editor of the Daily Mail. If this was true, can you explain the possible motives behind the plot?

A5: It has been argued that the government wanted a general strike in May, 1926, as it would give them a chance to destroy the trade union movement. However, during negotiations, it became clear that the TUC wanted to do a deal. Therefore, Churchill arranged for Marlowe to provoke the printers to go on strike. Marlowe produced a leading article, headed "For King and Country", which denounced the trade union movement as disloyal and unpatriotic.The workers in the machine room, had asked for the article to be changed, when he refused they stopped working. Although, George Isaacs, the union shop steward, tried to persuade the men to return to work, Marlowe took the opportunity to phone Baldwin about the situation.

The strike was unofficial and the TUC negotiators apologized for the printers' behaviour, but Baldwin refused to continue with the talks. A letter was handed to the TUC negotiators that stated that the "gross interference with the freedom of the press" involved a "challenge to the constitutional rights and freedom of the nation". The General Strike therefore began on 3rd May, 1926.