Britain between the Wars, 1918-1940

By Charles Loch Mowat | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Dead Centre: the General Strike and After, 1925-1929

1. CROSS-CURRENTS IN THE LABOUR MOVEMENT

THE general strike of 1926, caused by the bitter coal strike which long outlasted it, was the great and dramatic event of the mid-twenties, interrupting the even tenor of Baldwin's government and the course of economic recovery from the boom and slump which had followed the war. Yet it was an interruption only, and did not change the tendencies of trade and of industrial organisation, the trend in wages and prices, the inexorable advance of social welfare through state action. It made a wound on the body politic and on the economy, but the wound healed, though the scar remained. The reason for this, though it was not immediately apparent, was that the general strike marked the end, and not the beginning, of a time of unrest and possible revolution. The postwar unrest we have already taken note of: the Glasgow general strike, Black Friday, the Councils of Action and the admiration for Bolshevist Russia, the founding of the Communist Party of Great Britain and its offspring such as the National Minority Movement, the arrival of the Clydeside Brigade in parliament, and, in a different way, the Black and Tan war in Ireland. The initial unrest had been allayed by Lloyd George's improvisations and had died away as unemployment brought apathy and the beginning of industrial recovery restored hope. From 1923 onwards there was, to all intents and purposes, a truce: in industrial life between the forces of capital and labour, in politics between the Conservatives and the Liberal-Labour opposition; the history of the first Labour government, though not the circumstances of its defeat, is an illustration of this. The general strike was the result of an interruption of this truce and its ultimate effect was to restore the truce.

That the general strike was a deviation from the main course of events can be seen if we mark the direction which the Labour movement was taking in 1924 and 1925. Labour was definitely

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