Ninety years ago the 1926 General Strike was a heroic episode in working class history in Britain. It was an act of defiance, a challenge but essentially a defensive action provoked by an industrial dispute. Negotiation characterises most union activity; as representatives of working people, the union is there to protect and improve upon the working conditions in the work place. One of the most commonly held explanation for modern trade union membership (and it is used as a selling point) is as a form of insurance against any difficulties at work. Union officials are there to resolve any issues that arise between the ‘management’ and its work force. When there is disruption or stoppage at the work place it is a reactive and defensive action. The appeal is to procedure and negotiation. For all their limitations, unions serve the material interest of its members – and others who are incorporated in any subsequent agreement – and regardless of the intensity of the struggle, the objective is an acceptable settlement.
1926 : In this contemporary account of the General Strike, the judgement was made that “the 19th century trade union leadership…refused to face up to the class issues involved in the miners’ strike”. In a real sense that was right: the unions did not envisage a constitutional challenge upon the prerogative of the owners or the state or the government of the day; the union leadership saw an industrial dispute. That mentality has shaped, guided and directed unions’ activity since their formation. In the heat of a struggle it serves well not to lose sight of that perspective that shapes the trade union movement in Britain.
The publishers of “A Workers History of the General Strike” was the Plebs League whose main activity was conducting educational classes for workers, with an explicit Marxist perspective. It had a complicated, and critical relationship with the Communist Party and was absorbed by the Labour College movement following the General Strike.
Of its authors:
Raymond Postgate, well-known journalist and social historian;
Ellen Wilkinson as the Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Jarrow, she became a national figure when, in 1936, she figured prominently in the Jarrow March of the town’s unemployed to London, to petition for the right to work;
and editor of the Plebs magazine, J.Frank Horrabin radical writer and graphic artist , was the Labour MP for Peterborough from 1929 to 1931.