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Diary of the strike

Vivid imagery expressing the struggle between strikers and police during the General Strike. Detail from a mural by Cliff Rowe entitled 'The General Strike'.
Vivid imagery expressing the struggle between strikers and police during the General Strike. Detail from a mural by Cliff Rowe entitled 'The General Strike'.
©2008 Estate of Cliff Rowe/TopFoto

DAY 1: Tuesday 4 May

On the first day there was almost complete good humour and good order. London's transport system was practically at a complete standstill. Thousands of commuters tried to catch the few buses that did run, which were driven by non-union labour. The only news service available to the public was on BBC radio, because the printers were on strike. Distribution of food and other essential supplies by the army and volunteers went smoothly. 

In parliament the Budget was passed with virtually no debate at all. Although unheard of, the explanation was simple; opposition leaders only wanted to discuss the General Strike. The Prince of Wales came back from Paris to listen to the debate and continued to take a keen interest in events.

DAY 2: Wednesday 5 May

Both sides managed to publish their first newspaper. The strikers published The British Worker, which highlighted the strength and solidarity of the strikers. It went to enormous lengths to stress that the strike was an industrial dispute and in no way an attack on the constitution.

The government published the British Gazette, edited by Winston Churchill. It ridiculed the strikers and strongly emphasised that their aim was to overturn the constitution. It seems that the general public found this publication distasteful, and because it was so extreme, treated it with great suspicion.

A large hostile crowd prevented an attempt to run trams in London, although trams ran in most other towns during the strike. 

Using military staff and emergency powers, the government was able to get some trains moving. A number of London buses ran with a police escort and a wire mesh to protect drivers from missiles. In London some buses were attacked. Hyde Park was closed off and used as the centre for distributing milk to the capital. In Leeds and Nottingham there was some crowd trouble, but nothing serious. 

DAY 3: Thursday 6 May

 Angry crowds surge around a commuter bus during the General Strike.
Angry crowds surge around a commuter bus during the General Strike.

A skeleton service began to run on the London Underground, manned by volunteers. The railways announced that over 1700 trains had run. 80 buses also ran, but nearly 50 were damaged. The government took stronger measures to protect the buses and workers who had refused to strike.

There were disturbances in Edinburgh, and civilians and five police officers were hurt. There were also disturbances in Leeds, Aberdeen and in various parts of London.

DAY 4: Friday 7 May

A government statement announced that the situation was becoming more intense and that strikers planned to disrupt the temporary transport networks, but did admit that there had been no trouble so far. The statement claimed the Trades Union Congress (TUC) was attempting to starve the country, that there had been widespread intimidation, and that in London, 50,000 special constables were to be hired. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury appealed for the return to peace negotiations. The BBC did not broadcast the appeal until 11 May, and it was not placed in the British Gazette at all. 

About 2400 trains ran.

DAY 5: Saturday 8 May

The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, spoke on the BBC, again accusing unions of conducting an assault on the constitution. He again stressed the government was not attacking the living standards of workers. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) replied that although the Prime Minister appealed for the strike to end, he did not appeal for the mine owners to end their lockouts. Many shops and businesses that would usually open on Saturdays did not open. 

Russian trade unions sent the Trades Union Congress (TUC) a large cheque, but the TUC returned it. 

The first military convoy was used after several lorries were prevented from leaving docks in London. The convoy was two miles long and contained 16 armoured cars. There was no violence and relatively little ill feeling. American observers commented that even minor strikes in the US caused more violence than the entire General Strike so far.

DAY 6: Sunday 9 May

It was a quiet day across the country. Many strikers marched to church. Churchmen appealed for an end to the strike. The head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Bourne, called the strike a sin, and some Labour MPs protested.

The Government announced that there was a small but steady stream of strikers going back to work, and stated there could not be solidarity among the strikers if the strike was weakening. The Home Secretary appealed for recruits to a new Civil Constabulary Reserve to keep order, with a good response.

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Through various scenes of daily life during the General Strike, this film from 1926 shows the Strike as a relatively peaceful affair, which did not inconvenience people too much.
©British Film Institute

Full transcript of the film "Strikelets"

Duration: 0:04:18

The Great British News Film
Text slide: STRIKELETS. Cameos of English life to-day
Text slide: Mostly peaceful but not all so peaceful as Mersey Docks.
Shot pans Mersey Docks

Text slide: CARDIFF. "Hooray!  Here's a tram!"
Busy street with tram moving through it

Text slide: Trains improving but hundreds coming and going by Cross-Channel Plane.
People boarding small aircraft. Aircraft moves away

Text slide: -All Schools continue-
School boys playing football

Text slide: - and the Youngsters keep fit!
School boys marching round the playground and jogging on the spot

Text slide: - St. Paul's Pigeons get their rations as usual -
Pigeons being fed

Text slide: But our "Terriers" are being disbanded and sworn in as "Special Specials."
Men taking an oath with right hands raised. Then collecting batons and marching off for duty.

Text slide: But while our Police are busy, the Police in far Baghdad also do a little "Scrapping".
Two men boxing in a ring

Text slide: Some of them have "got the sack"!
Men fighting while their legs are in sacks

Text slide: No wonder King Faisallooks so jolly cheerful!
King Faisal watching with another man

Text slide: "Wot about this Strike Willum?"
"Rekun it'll be alright, Jarge, unless these plaguey Brewers be comin' out"

Two men with beards drinking from mugs

Text slide: Even so, nothing matters as long as we have Hobbs!
Men playing cricket in their whites.

Text slide: Are We Downhearted?

Text slide: Topical Budget

Text slide: - Convoys of food go merrily by-

Text slide: - to the "London Stores" in Hyde Park -

DAY 7: Monday 10 May

The government was becoming increasingly confident in the success of its emergency supply services. Sir Herbert Samuel, who had headed the Royal Commission on the mines in 1925-1926, tried to negotiate a settlement between the miners and mine owners behind the scenes. The government made it clear that Samuel was not acting officially, but on his own behalf. Some sources suggested that the government tried to discourage him.

The government was by now convinced that large numbers of workers were returning to work. The government's figures were disputed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The government encouraged workers to return, restating its pledge to protect workers who had not gone on strike or who had returned to work from victimisation .

3677 trains ran. The Manchester Ship Canal was closed to shipments of wheat as flour employees came out on strike. Bitter exchanges between Labour and Tory MPs took place. Labour MPs were critical of police violence against strikers in Southwark.

DAY 8: Tuesday 11 May

The general atmosphere was filled with rumours of imminent peace. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) called a special meeting, but also called out on strike engineering and shipbuilding workers. It refused a request from print unions to allow some papers to be printed. 

A court action was brought by the National Sailors' Union and the Firemen's Union, used to restrain officials from calling members of these unions out on strike. This led to a judgement by the High Court Judge, Justice Astbury, that the General Strike was illegal. The judgement also stated that the 1906 Trade Disputes Act did not protect those involved in a strike. 

Speaking for the Liberals in parliament, Sir John Simon proposed a peace plan. It was dismissed in the British Gazette. There was still little violent disturbance across England, but in Glasgow there was some serious trouble. It was announced that in the course of the strike Glasgow police had made 300-400 arrests.

DAY 9: Wednesday 12 May

At midday, a Trades Union Congress (TUC) representative went to Downing Street to announce the strike was being called off.