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  • Jimena Schoemann de Miguel

The Biggest Strike in British History

Why was it the biggest?

The biggest strike in UK history was the 1926 General Strike, because of the impact it caused, and the number of workers involved. It only lasted nine days but involved 1.5 million to 1.75 million workers. It was one of the most expensive strikes in UK history and affected numerous companies.

Why did it happen?

The strike happened because in 1880, the coal industry reached its highest production rate at about 310 tons annually. However, in the following years after the war, it fell to about 247 tons annually and so it continued to decline from 1920 to 1924, when it reached a low of 199 tons annually. They started to sell coal at lower prices. Mine owners wanted to maintain their usual profit and the only way that was going to happen, was by lowering the miners' weekly salaries from six to three pounds over a seven-year period and increasing their working hours. This went on for seven years.

When mine owners announced that they were going to lower salaries and increase working hours further, the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain rejected the terms and said: “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day.” The Trade Union Congress responded to that statement by promising to support miners in their decision. Under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the conservative government decided to interfere by announcing that a 9-month subsidy would be provided to keep the miners' wages at their usual and that a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel would have a look into the problem. The Commission was to consider the impact on the mining industry, families, as well as other industries and companies that are dependant on coal. Shortly after, the Samuel Commission published a report on the 10th of March 1926, suggesting that national agreements, the nationalisation of royalties, sweeping reorganisation and improvement should be considered for the industry. Along with that, it also suggested that the miners’ wages should be lowered by 13.5% and the government subsidy withdrawn. Two weeks later, the government declared that this would go through if other parties agreed. The last discussion on the matter was held on the 1st of May 1926, but no agreement was reached, causing the TUC to make an announcement that a general strike was to happen on the 3rd of May.

Why was it called off?

After nine days, the TUC General Council decided to call off the strike. They visited 10 Downing Street to declare their decision to call off the strike, under the condition that the government would not take action against the strikers. The government stated that it had “no power to compel employers to take back every man who had taken part in the strike”. The TUC decided it was best to agree to end the dispute without the fulfillment of its original terms. Multiple strikes continued shortly after, as their unions discussed deals with firms for their workers to go back to work again.

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