|Can Corbyn win Scotland back to Labour?|
The Labour Government that had been elected in 1924 lasted only nine months - after which the coal owners lost no time in pressing ahead with a demand for pay cuts, longer hours and an end to the guaranteed minimum wage.
When the owners announced in June 1925 that current wage contracts would end in one monthï¿½s time, they plunged the industry and the MFGB into a new crisis.
The Federation rejected the ownersï¿½ ultimatum, and immediately sought pledges of assistance from the wider labour and trade union movement should the miners be forced to take industrial action The TUC offered its support, placing itself ï¿½without qualification and unreservedly at the disposal of the Minersï¿½ Federationï¿½. It proceeded to issue instructions for an embargo on all movement of coal.
By the end of July, it was clear that while on the one hand the Government stood with the coal owners, the MFGB had the backing of the TUC.
Faced with circumstances in which not only the miners but the Trades Union Congress was apparently prepared to take industrial action, Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin made an ï¿½offerï¿½. He said that the government would set up an inquiry into the entire situation, and while that inquiry was sitting it would provide a subsidy to maintain minersï¿½ wages at their current level.
The day on which Baldwin made his proposal, July 31, 1925, became known as ï¿½Red Fridayï¿½; many people indeed believed it heralded a significant climb down by the Government. However, ominous signs soon indicated that, far from compromising, the Tories were preparing the ground to take on the miners in a final show down.
The Commission in Inquiry, set up under Sir Herbert Samuel, included no minersï¿½ representatives, nor indeed any from organised labour. During the months of its deliberations, the State proceeded to prepare for impending warfare. Government, coal owners and a body which became know as the OMS (Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies) used the media to build up an anti-trade union atmosphere, preparing the ground for a pro-Government/coal owners climate when conflict broke.
During this preparatory period, striking anthracite miners in Ammanford, Wales, were imprisoned, and leading Communist Party members were jailed for sedition.
The Samuel Commissionï¿½s report was completed and published in early March 1926. It found in favour of the coal owners. From there, events moved swiftly: by the end of April, the owners had again issued an ultimatum on reducing wages, ending the guaranteed wage agreement, and increasing hours of work.
The MFGB Executive Committee rejected these demands, while General Secretary A.J. Cook now coined the famous battle phrase which would soon echo throughout Britain: ï¿½Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day!ï¿½
The owners posted notices imposing a lock-out against more than one million miners by midnight of April 30. On that day, the King signed a proclamation declaring Britain to be in a ï¿½state of emergencyï¿½.
The Government could now be seen to have taken full advantage of the long breathing space provided by the Samuel Commission. Troops were ready for deployment and the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies was prepared for action.
On May 1, a crowded meeting of the TUCï¿½s affiliated trade union executive committees voted overwhelmingly (by 3ï¿½5 million votes to less than 50,000) in favour of a general strike. It began at midnight, May 3.
All production, all communications, ground to a halt. The industrial solidarity shown by other workers towards the miners was beyond anyoneï¿½s expectations; for nine days, British workers organised the distribution of food and emergency supplies around the nation.
Steadily, their control of the situation grew. The General Strike was not only solid, it was gaining more and more support.. Then, suddenly, on May 12, it was called off.
The TUC General Council had sold out this unprecedented struggle for decent pay and conditions. Following a ï¿½promiseï¿½ from Sir Herbert Samuel that, provided the General Strike was called off, negotiations on minersï¿½ pay and conditions would resume on a status quo basis, the General Council agreed to a return to work despite fierce opposition from the MFGB.
This was a bitter betrayal. The MFGB was left to fight alone, its nearly one million members and their families bearing the full brunt of the Tory Governmentï¿½s attack. Although the TUC had abandoned them, however, mining communities were supported with food and donations from rank and file trade unionists in Britain and around the world.
Indeed, two thirds of all financial contributions came from workers in the Soviet Union, who helped sustain the miners throughout the summer of 1926.
At home, womenï¿½s committees and organisations played a leading role in organising practical and moral support. The labour movement and its organisations, including the Labour Party, gave vital assistance.
They struggled on into the autumn. Then, in November, came the news that suspended members of the Nottinghamshire Minersï¿½ Association, led by George Spencer MP, had decided to meet local coal owners to negotiate a district settlement of the dispute.
The purpose of this tactic (to undermine the national unity of the strike) was revealed fully when a breakaway company organisation, the ï¿½Nottinghamshire and District Minersï¿½ Industrial Unionï¿½, came into existence.
Towards the end of November 1926, miners around the country - exhausted, betrayed, deserted - resumed work in all the major coalfields with the exceptions of South Wales, Yorkshire and Durham. Then, on November 30, South Wales and Yorkshire returned to work, with the Durham Minersï¿½ Association instructing its men to return. They went back to conditions imposed by the owners.
The lock-out had lasted for seven months. Never in the history of the British trade union movement (or that of any other nation) had there been such an industrial struggle. Commentators, observers and some participants themselves believed that never again would the British working class see such a confrontation.
Only time would tell.
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