Supporting the miners
|Blacklegs discharging a ship at London Docks during the General Strike of 1926. © NMM|
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) called a General Strike in early May 1926. They made the call in support of a strike by coal miners over the issue of threatened wage cuts.
The strike involved key industries like the docks, electricity, gas and railways. Some of the most dramatic episodes of the strike took place in the Port of London.
|Blacklegs using a crane to discharge a ship. © NMM|
Vast quantities of perishable food stores lay in the warehouses. When the strikers said that power supplies would be cut, the government decided to move these cargoes.
Blacklegs, with Royal Navy help, loaded the goods onto hundreds of lorries inside the docks. The lorries were then driven away by soldiers from the Guards regiments.
Students rally to the government
The Conservative government was greatly helped by volunteers from the upper and middle classes who believed that the strike was a threat to the established social order. Students from Oxford and Cambridge were among those who answered the government’s call for help with unloading ships in the docks.
|Oxford undergraduates unloading food ships at Hay's Wharf. © NMM|
|Undergraduates busy with barrels of butter in the hold of a food ship. © NMM|
For most of the students involved, performing hard physical labour during the 1926 strike was seen as a bit of fun as well as their civic duty.
No doubt many thoroughly enjoyed the unusual experience. But their intervention caused enormous bitterness among the dockworkers and their supporters.
Destroyers on the Thames
Destroyers were anchored in the river close to the Royal Docks and Surrey Commercial Docks. Armoured cars manned by troops from the Royal Tank Corps escorted the police when they led convoys of lorries out of the docks, amidst the angry shouts of the dockers. The army even put machine-guns near some of the dock gates.
|Police guarding a convoy of goods leaving the docks during the General Strike. © NMM|
The unions defeated
|The end of the General Strike. © NMM|
The General Strike ended in defeat for the dockers and their supporters. In the face of well-organized government emergency measures, the strike collapsed after nine days.
The miners stayed out on strike, but eventually returned to work in August. They had to accept lower wages and longer hours.
Trade union membership declined after the strike. The dispute gave the government an excuse to pass retaliatory laws against the trades unions. It led to the passing of the 1927 Trade Disputes Act, which restricted the ability of workers to strike.