Frank Hodges

Frank Hodges

Frank Hodges, the son of Thomas and Louisa Hodges, was born at Woolaston, Gloucestershire, on 30th April 1887. The family moved to South Wales to seek employment in the coalmining industry. (1)

After attending Queen Street elementary school in Abertillery, at the age of 14, he found work at the local colliery and became an active member of Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB). At the age of sixteen he was converted to Methodism and became a local preacher. (2)

In 1909 he obtained a union-sponsored scholarship to Ruskin College. After leaving Oxford University he became miners' agent for the Garw Valley. He joined the Independent Labour Party and became interested in the syndicalist ideas of people such Arthur J. Cook and Noah Ablett. Cook argued "that the power of the workers to organise or disrupt their own production – their power to strike – was the only power which the owners were likely to recognise: the only power which might change the miners’ conditions and the only power which could eventually change society". (3)

However, he was eventually to reject these radical views and preferred the more moderate approach of guild socialism, that was advocated by G. D. H. Cole. In 1918 the MFGB, decided to appoint a full-time president and general secretary. Hodges was nominated as general secretary and was elected by defeating his former radical colleague, Noah Ablett. (4)

After the war the ending of price controls, prices rose twice as fast during 1919 as they had done during the worst years of the war. That year 35 million working days were lost to strikes, and on average every day there were 100,000 workers on strike - this was six times the 1918 rate. There were stoppages in the coal mines, in the printing industry, among transport workers, and the cotton industry. There were also mutinies in the military and two separate police strikes in London and Liverpool. (5)

The miners were encouraged to go back to work by the government agreeing to establish a royal commission under John Sankey, a high court judge. Others on the commission included trade unionists, Frank Hodges, Robert Smillie and Herbert Smith. Other progressive figures such as R. H. Tawney, Sidney Webb and Leo Chiozza Money, were also included, but Arthur Balfour, and several conservative businessmen meant that they could not publish a united report. (6)

In June 1919 the Sankey Commission came up with four reports, which ranged from complete nationalization on the part of the workers' representatives to restoration of undiluted private ownership on that of the owners. On 18th August, Lloyd George used the excuse of this disagreement to reject nationalization but offered the prospect of reorganization. When this was rejected by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, the government kept control of the industry. It also agreed to pass legislation that would guarantee the miners a seven-hour day. (7)

In January 1921, Arthur J. Cook, from South Wales became a member of the executive of the MFGB. Over the next few months he became one of Hodges main critics: In February, "the decontrol of the mining industry was announced, with a consequent end to a national wages agreement and wage reductions. A three-month lock-out from April 1921 ended in defeat for the miners; at its end Cook was again gaoled for two months' hard labour for incitement and unlawful assembly". (8)

On 14th April, 1921, Hodges spoke to a meeting of M.P.s in the House of Commons. An answer he gave in reply to questions was taken up and reported as indicating that the miners were prepared to compromise. However, the MFGB executive refused to enter fresh talks. The other members of the Triple Industrial Alliance, the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and the National Transport Workers' Federation (later the Transport & General Workers Union) urged them to change their mind. When they refused, they called off their planned industrial action on Friday, 15th April. This was a great disappointment both to the miners and trade union militants, and the day has gone down in labour industry as "Black Friday". (9)

As Hodges biographer, Keith Davies, has pointed out that Hodges was blamed for this failure: "At the outset, the miners' partners in the triple alliance - the railway and transport workers - failed to honour commitments to strike in support. Hodges' role in that decision was a controversial one. His apparent willingness, at an informal meeting of MPs on 14 April 1921, to consider waiving the miners' twin demands for a national wages board and a national pool in the interests of achieving a temporary agreement enabled the miners' allies to urge further negotiations... Hodges' action was disavowed by the miners' executive but the damage had been done, not least to his reputation". (10)

Frank Hodges decided on taking up a career in politics and was elected for Litchfield in the 1923 General Election. Under the rules of the union he now had to resign his post but he initially refused. It was not until he was appointed as Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the Labour Government that he agreed to go.

Arthur J. Cook went on to secure the official South Wales nomination for the post of general secretary and subsequently won the national ballot by 217,664 votes to 202,297. Fred Bramley, general secretary of the TUC, was appalled at Cook's election. He commented to his assistant, Walter Citrine: "Have you seen who has been elected secretary of the Miners' Federation? Cook, a raving, tearing Communist. Now the miners are in for a bad time." However, his victory was welcomed by Arthur Horner who argued that Cook represented “a time for new ideas - an agitator, a man with a sense of adventure”. (11)

Frank Hodges time in Parliament did not last long and he was defeated in the 1924 General Election. On leaving parliament, Hodges became secretary of the International Federation of Miners (1925–7). The Miners' Federation of Great Britain were furious with Hodges when he gave evidence to the Samuel Commission in 1925 indicating that British miners should be prepared to work longer hours.

Hodges now left the union movement and became a director of a number of companies, including Securities Management Trust, a subsidiary of the Bank of England established to finance inter-war industrial reconstruction, and he also served as chairman of the Glasgow Iron and Steel Company. "To many of his erstwhile colleagues in the labour movement, however, he remained someone who, through self-seeking opportunism, betrayed his early promise" and "passed to the other side of the barricade". (12)

Frank Hodges died on 3rd June 1947 at Ruthin Castle Hospital. He left an estate of more than £100,000. (11)

Primary Sources


(1) Julian Symons, The General Strike (1957)

The leaders of the Triple Alliance sat in continuous session at the railwaymen's headquarters. Like most men who have reached important positions in the trade union movement, they preferred negotiations to fighting. Frank Hodges, who held the key position of secretary to the Miners' Federation, had presented the miners' case to the Sankey Commission with a skill and sympathy that earned him great respect. Since then he had moved steadily away from a belief in militant policies.

(2) Christopher Farman, The General Strike: Britain's Aborted Revolution? (1972)

At the beginning of 1921, the Government precipitated its delayed reckoning with the Triple Alliance. During the war the mines had been placed under Government control. This was not due to end until August, but the Government announced that it would cease in March. Immediately, the owners, gave ` notice of drastic wage cuts which were to operate from the date of de-control. The Miners' Federation rejected the terms and a lockout began on 31st March. Declaring a state of emergency, the Government moved troops into the coalfields and mounted machine guns at the githeads. The other members of the Triple Alliance promised to withdraw their labour on 15th April and the T.U.C. and the Labour party pledged their support for the miners. The long-delayed trial of strength between unions and Government seemed at last to have come. But.on the eve of the strike Frank. Hodges, secretary of' the Miners' Federation, hinted to M.P.s that, as a temporary compromise, the miners might be prepared to accept district settlements instead of a national wages agreement, provided these were related to the cost of living. A national agreement was one -of the miners' vital demands and Hodges was promptly disowned by his own executive. But an opening for escape had been presented to the other members of the Alliance, whose taste for industrial action had diminished with the negotiation of satisfactory settlements in their own industries. Urged on by Jimmy Thomas, secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, the Alliance accused the miners of intransigence and withdrew the strike notices which were to have become operative on Friday 15th April - Black Friday as it came to be known in the Labour movement. The miners were left to fight their battle alone, and this they lost with disastrous consequences three months later.

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(1) Keith Davies, Frank Hodges : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation (1982) page 76

(3) Paul Foot, An Agitator of the Worst Type (January, 1986)

(4) Keith Davies, Frank Hodges : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(5) Frank McLynn, The Road Not Taken: How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution (2013) page 365

(6) Julian Symons, The General Strike (1957) page 5

(7) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 189

(8) Hywel Francis, Arthur James Cook : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(9) Margaret Morris, The General Strike (1976) page 123

(10) Keith Davies, Frank Hodges : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(11) Frank McLynn, The Road Not Taken: How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution (2013) page 395

(12) Keith Davies, Frank Hodges : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(13) Julian Symons, The General Strike (1957) page 6