The General Strike a violent dispute

The General Strike began on the 4th may and lasted until the 12th May, during this period some areas were hit by violence from striking workers, leading it to be thought of as a violent dispute. There is available evidence which supports the idea that the strike was a violent dispute in a few areas, above all the docks. This essay will assess how accurate source C is at interpreting the violence of the situation using evidence obtained from studying other resources. The limitations of the source will also be evaluated to distinguish any omissions or possible unbalanced analysis.

The scene depicted in source C is an undeniably a violent one, there are a lot of policemen amongst the crowd of strikers and a few of the strikers are being restrained. This illustrates that the situation is out of control causing a lot of force to be needed. This is useful towards showing how violence was coped with during the strike since we know 200,000 special constables were sworn in to support the police if strikes occurred. Likewise the armoured vehicle towards the front of the picture implies that a lot of force was needed to discontinue strikes which took part. Similarly to the points mentioned above an armed officer is illustrated in the painting aiming a machine gun. This entails that the troops feel threatened by the level of violence being used and are willing to use weapons to appear threatening back. Alternatively this could also illustrate that the troops used weapons to intimidate and provoke the strikers causing more violence, as The British Worker stated was happening. This reveals that violence was used equally by both sides of the strike. The information it is possible to extract from this source is very useful at understanding the nature of the strikes.

However there are also many limitations in the source which cause it to not be entirely reliable. For instance the painting depicted is nearby a dock, this is revealed by the cranes shown in the background of the picture. The London Dock was the only area in which it was necessary for troops to be called in and preserve order. Docks in general were also the most prominent areas that strike took place in. Therefore the sources reliability is in question since it does not represent the entire country and in many areas there were no strikes at all therefore it is an unfair judgement of violent disputes. Only 4,000 people were prosecuted for violence or incitement to violence out of the millions of people striking, which is an extremely small number proportionally. It is also a painting of a food convoy which were typically violent events; therefore it is not possible to assume strikes like these occurred every day, so the regularity of them is impossible to determine. Another unreliable point is that it was painted for the Electrical Trade Union which suggests it may be pro-union and therefore exaggerating the force of the troops to make it appear is if the strikers were being provoked. For the above reasons we cannot trust the reliability of the painting although it does convey some valuable information.

Although the painting contains many implications of violence, it does not in fact portray any actual violence. However it is known there were cases of violence and these are omitted in this source. For example there are reported cases of attempts to puncture tyres and of throwing stones to interrupt the progress of those who 'black-legged' the jobs. Another instance was recorded where strikers attempted to sabotage a railway line. Other forms of violence, such as these, used in the General Strike are emitted from source A, therefore does not give the full picture of the types of violence being used, which it would also be essential to know when studying violence used in the General Strike.

In conclusion Source C is an accurate interpretation of violence in certain areas and how order was reserved by troops of armed policemen; however its reliability must be questioned since the scene depicted was at a food convoy near a dock- both were the most common areas of violence during the strike. It may also be questioned whether the artist was biased since he was painting the picture for the Electrical Trade Union. There is also a lack of information about violence in other areas of England, and about different types of violence used, therefore it is useful towards studying violence in the General Strike along with other sources, but not on its own. To conclude Source C is an accurate interpretation of the war, however not enough information can be drawn for it to be fully useful by itself and there is reason to believe it is not wholly reliable.

The General Strike was called off by the T.U.C. on the 12th May 1926. Whether it was a 'working class war against the establishment' or an 'uprising of the ungrateful lower classes', it was a stepping stone in Trade Union activity, though it did not seem so for a while afterwards when Trade Unions lost respect and funds. The Strike pulled the labour class together to work for one cause and it proved that the fundamental beliefs of Trade Unions were well grounded. The General Strike was called off for a number of reasons which I will outline in the following essay. I will assess sources A to F and see if there is enough evidence contained within them to explain why the T.U.C. called off the General Strike.

The Government had prepared for the Strike far better than the T.U.C. which was over confident after the renewed subsidy in 1925. The government had used the extra nine months to prepare for an all-out strike and they did a number of things. Firstly, they organised the OMS or Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, where the country was separated into regions and each had volunteers to keep vital services available i.e. food supplies and transport. There was enough coal to provide electricity. Secondly, the leading members of the British Communist Party were arrested and imprisoned for sentences of 6-12 months, under the Incitement to Mutiny Act. This was an act dragged up from 1797, when Nelson was in charge of the Navy and it shows how the government were doing everything and anything within their power to prepare. Thirdly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Winston Churchill) took charge of producing an official government newspaper for the duration of the Strike. The British Gazette was the voice of the government during the Strike and therefore any sources from it are extremely biased.

The main aim of the General Strike was to 'hold-up' Britain. Without a complete shutdown of the British economy the Strike would have had little impact. Source B (very reliable due to being a photograph from the time) shows us that the country still had a skeleton transport system (only 40 buses from a fleet of 4400 were running) and necessary supplies were being delivered. So from this source we can see that the Strike was not having a enormous impact or the effect desired by the T.U.C. Black-leg labourers were middle class and unemployed people who filled in the jobs of citizens who were on Strike. They drove the buses, trains and food convoys, worked on the docks and in factories. Without them Britain would have entirely shut down and the Strike would have worked. Many of these men were delighted to help, for example by driving buses like in Source B-childhood dreams comes true! The problem was; the black-leg labourers were proving to be somewhat good at filling in for the strikers who became afraid of losing their jobs permanently and so returned to work.

The government was provoking the strikers to become violent. They had armed policemen and soldiers protecting food convoys and the black-leg labourers, as if daring the Strikers to battle. An extract from English History 1914-1945 says, 'Churchill tried to provoke conflict by parading armoured cars through the streets'. We can see how the government tried to do this from photographs taken during the Strike, though from the photos we can also see the peacefulness of the crowd. In Source C we can see a painting of sturdy, well-fed strikers fighting at the Docks. This was obviously not the real condition the men were in as Britain's populations consisted mostly of under nourished, over-worked males-who would have been worse for wear due to the Strike. This source is bound to be unreliable and biased because it was drawn by a member of a Trade Union 28 years after the end of the Strike. From Source A we learn that 'altogether 4000 people were prosecuted for violence or incitement to violence and about a quarter of these received prison sentences'. This is an inconsequential number among the millions of strikers and not a major reason to call off the Strike but if there had been aggression the T.U.C might have never recovered. For if there had been hostility the Trade Unions would have lost the sympathy vote and therefore most of their support. Source A is relatively reliable because it is written after the event by a third party. The government could have created far more effective propaganda from a violent strike than a peaceful one. The government also used propaganda to incite brutality. The main line of attack was through The British Gazette, but the strikers had a newspaper too, The British Worker, and they were able to combat the propaganda and broadcast messages, encouragement, warnings and advice to their followers. The sources from both newspapers announcing the end of the Strike use words that conjure up images of war, for example, surrender, peace and unconditional. In my view this was a final attempt on both sides to justify the Strike, as wars are thought of as 'just causes' by some and would make the government happy because they had 'victory' and the workers more angry and devoted to their cause due to their 'losing'.

The Strike had lost some early support due to a number of peoples believing that the Trade Unions were attacking the British system of government and attempting to overthrow it. They linked it to the Russian Revolution which was known for its violence and brutality (towards the upper classes). The Russian Revolution had begun with widespread strikes and troubled workers, so people were afraid. Also individuals were afraid of syndicalism, the belief that the workers should run the industries as this is rather like communism and would leave many factory and mine owners redundant or in the same circumstances as their own workers. Some early support for the Strike had dried up, perhaps it was going on for too long and people lost interest or perhaps supporters became worried as to how it would affect themselves and their jobs. The Strike could be perceived as a class war. Perhaps people believed the working classes were trying to hold the rest of the country to account for its hardships. Others believed it was just two obstinate groups of people on a collision course and assumed they would work out their problems.

Unity in the Trade Union Congress might have been fractured. In a source I have seen; a Punch Cartoon from April 1921 'An Employer's View of the Triple Industrial Alliance' there is a three headed dog representing Cerberus-guardian of the gates to the underworld. The three heads, labelled 'transport', 'miners' and 'railways' are different. 'Miners' looks angry and unsettled whereas the other two look tired and fed up. This shows where most of the turmoil in the T.U.C. was coming from. The 'miners' head is in the middle- as if it is controlling the other parties. Though this is from an employer's viewpoint it cannot be ignored as the miners seem, throughout the Strike and even before, to be the angriest, most dangerous of the groups-perhaps the others weren't quite so supportive of the Strike and didn't want it to drag on. Another place we can see the miners playing a domineering role in the Strike is Sources D and E. These both state that 'negotiations are to be resumed in the coal dispute' and that the 'miners call delegate conference'. There is no mention of the other groups of people on Strike-the miners clearly were forthright and more important.

So in conclusion these sources can tell us opinions and views on the General Strike from both sides but they are mainly biased due to the uses they served. The two newspaper articles announcing the end of the General Strike are extremely brief and show how the government and T.U.C. were trying not to draw great attention to it, as if both sides agreed it was an embarrassment. At the end of the Strike the T.U.C may have hoped that new and unofficial proposals by Sir Herbert Samuel would permit the miners and mine owners to renew negotiations. This was not so. Most men got their jobs back but 3000 men endured recrimination from employers and the railwaymen had to accept pay cuts on return to work. The miners remained on strike for several months. They were ultimately forced back to work after hunger and cold, under the conditions they had abandoned in April. All the recommendations of the Samuel Commission, including the ones the government had accepted, were ignored.

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