The Governmentï¿½s haste in passing control of the industry back to the owners was spurred by a rapid fall in coal prices and the onset of ï¿½slumpï¿½ economic conditions in 1921.
It was in March of that year that - unexpectedly and without real explanation - the President of the MFGB, Bob Smillie, resigned his position, and virtually disappeared from the national trade union scene, returning to the minerï¿½s cottage at Larkhall in Scotland where he had begun his career.
When the MFGB refused to agree to this, owners locked mineworkers out of the pits on April 1 and, immediately on the heels of this provocation, the Government put into force its Emergency Powers Act, drafting soldiers (again) into the coalfield. So significant did the Government regard the 1921 dispute that it brought troops back from Ireland where war was being waged.
The struggle which followed was a severe test of the solidarity pledges made among the Triple Alliance unions. When the Government and mine owners stepped up the conflict by seeking an end to MFGB national agreements and a further cut in pay, the Union, sadly, found itself without the supportive action it desperately needed from its allies.
On what became known as ï¿½Black Fridayï¿½. April 15 1921, the miners found themselves effectively betrayed by the leaders of the Transport Workersï¿½ federation and the National Union of Railwaymen, and it was clear that they would be on their own in a contest of endurance with the State.
The MFGB, now led by a blunt Yorkshireman, Herbert Smith, was determined to carry on the struggle even though the Federationï¿½s allies were unwilling to take strike action alongside it.
However, the Government steadily exerted more and more pressure, under which the MFGB Executive Committee eventually changed its position. On June 28, it recommended acceptances of a deal which involved scrapping national agreements. The deal also included a wage reduction that left miners at least 20 percent worse off in real terms than in 1914, some seven years earlier.
After three months the lock-out was ended, the miners had been betrayed, but they would live to fight another day.
In the two-year period through to March 1923, membership of the Federation dropped by over 200,000. But from this time - spring of 1923 - a groundswell of energy and purpose began building again in the coalfields, a groundswell which within another two years would lead to a conflict to dwarf the great lock-out of 1921.
In December 1923, the miners voted to fight again - to get rid of the terrible agreement which had been forced on them in 1921. Following the report of a Committee of Inquiry set up by the then Labour Government in the spring of 1924, proposals which at least ameliorated the worst effects of the imposed 1921 settlement were agreed by the owners, recommended by the MFGB Executive and accepted by the membership.
It was in June 1924 that the miners elected their legendary leader A.J. Cook as the Federationï¿½s General Secretary. He was a charismatic figure who inspired his members and draw larger audiences to his meetings than any other political figure of the day. The campaign of agitation which he conducted in the British coalfields was electrifying.
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