Chapter Ten


“There were no signs of weakening. On the other hand more workers were coming out and joining the strike.” [1] Report of the Derby Trades Council on May 12th 1926 at the end of the General Strike.
1 “Class fear’ or “magnificent generation”? – the stage is set
2 “Hamlet without the Prince” – the strike in Derbyshire at the beginning
3 From “soakie to a “gold mounted fountain pen” – the miners battle on
4 “The miners could have won a wage reduction without Thomas’ help – by way of an epilogue
5 Appendix – Calendar of key events: April to May 1926
6 Chapter 10 References                                           
1 “Class fear” or “magnificent generation”? – the stage is set
The 1914-18 war had solved nothing and had yet created the potential for much economic and political instability. Industrialists very much preferred a continuation of the wartime boom, while financiers and bankers looked to a return to pre-war fiscal certainty generally, and the Gold Standard in particular. In the end, these incompatible aims would continue to be reflected in a conflict between industrial and finance capital. The miners had achieved much in a decade of strong bargaining, an eight-hour day, a minimum wage and the establishment of a national basis for negotiations. The defeat of Black Friday in 1921 had been, however, the start of a reversal of these advances. This trend would culminate in the General Strike, having serious consequences not only for the miners but also for the working class generally.
As the post-war boom began to ease off, the demand for British coal overseas diminished. The central coalfields of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire chiefly supplied the home market and were thus not as badly affected as elsewhere. Even so, in these areas miners’ wages fell rapidly with the slump in demand for coal. An index of real wages per shift for 1922 has shown that in real terms wages were only 86% of the level attained in 1914. [2] The strategy of the Tory Government, elected in 1924 with Baldwin as Prime Minister, was to revive the old pre-war, imperial economy and the workers would pay the cost of doing it. Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, thus masterminded the return to the Gold Standard, which immediately and drastically affected those industries reliant on export orders by making their goods dearer. By the middle of 1925, coal exports had declined dramatically, causing a crisis. To preserve profits, on July 1st, the owners declared a return to the 1921 level of wages. At the same time, the much fought for national minimum wage was withdrawn, so that there could be no limit to wage reductions in the future. The immediate effect in Derbyshire was the reduction of day wages of coalface workers to 11/- a shift, a cut of 8s 14d. [3] Elsewhere, cuts double or even treble that were sought.
The Prime Minister called upon the miners to help him meet “the difficult situation with which the industry is confronted”, declaring, “all the workers of this country have got to take reductions in wages to put industry on its feet”. [4] Despite the familiarity of such an appeal, the miners would have none of it and declared their readiness to act. Fortunately, the entire trade union movement seemed behind them. Faced with the difficulties this would produce, an emergency Cabinet meeting was called in the early hours of Friday 31st July 1925. After this hurried consideration, it was announced that a subsidy would be granted but only for nine months so that a complete inquiry into the industry could be made. This would be known as the Samuel Commission, after its chairman, Sir Herbert Samuel – a Liberal. Only days before, such a prospect had been totally ruled out, now the masters withdrew their lock out threatened unless the men accepted the new conditions.
The day was to be immortalised as ‘Red Friday’; it seemed that the movement had redeemed itself and it was more than compensation for the debacle of ‘Black Friday’, four years earlier. The TUC had acted decisively and militantly, so much so that the Cabinet had been instantly recalled. Derby’s Councillor Brown, of the Builders’ Labourers, attended a special recall TUC to review the events of Red Friday. On hearing the fulsome praise of the leadership in his report back at its August 1925 meeting, the local Trades Council sent a telegram to the TUC and the MFGB expressing Derby’s congratulations. Contrasting sharply with this was the Trades Council’s forthright condemnation of the Government’s approach to the coal negotiations. [5] Victory though it was, Baldwin was in reality no more than stepping back in a shrewd tactical move. The subsidy was simply conceded to enable the preparation of an effective resistance to a repeat of Red Friday. In the meantime, much of the trade union movement turned to the left. Fred Bramley the TUC’s Secretary in 1925, reported that its recent delegation to the Soviet Union had concluded that the October 1917 Revolution had given expression “to the resolutions we have passed at TUCs for many years”.
The Vehicle Builders moved a resolution at the TUC, calling for a militant approach to what they recognised as an inevitable and impending conflict. They called for the General Council to be given the power to levy all unions, to call for a stoppage of part or the whole of the TUC and to liaise with the Co-ops to ensure the plentiful provisions of food supplies. The big wheels of the TUC – Thomas, Bevin and others – were against the motion. J R Clynes of the General and Municipal Workers Union, made the view of the right wing entirely clear. “I do not fear on this subject to throw such weight as I have on the side of caution. I am not in fear of the capitalist class. The only class I fear is our own.” He proposed that the NUVB resolution be withdrawn in favour of putting “Our trust in our leaders”. [6] By an alliance of the fearful right and the cautious centre, a compromise resolution was passed referring the NUVB call to the General Council, which had to later report to a special conference of the executives of all the unions. The conscience of the movement was thus salved, but the power was firmly placed in the hands of the General Council. Strategically, it was a fateful mistake.
While the TUC leadership were determined to avoid preparations at all costs, the establishment was out to face the coming battle head on. There was no doubt in the minds of the coal owners and the Government that Red Friday had delayed the inevitable showdown of a General Strike and that “public opinion would have to be educated into a state of preparedness to accept the consequences”. [7] On September 25th 1925, the press announced the formation of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS). The aims of this body were quite clearly defined from the beginning that, in view of the “movement to promote a general strike”, the OMS bodies had been concentrated “in many metropolitan boroughs and in all principal centres of the Kingdom”. This was a clear declaration of intent to smash the forthcoming defensive General Strike. [8] More sinister was the fact that, while the formal leadership of the OMS was rooted in the establishment, the growing fascist movement made a conscious decision to give support to the British State via this organisation. The President and Vice President of the British fascist movement assumed prominent positions in the OMS. The coal owners, for their part, relished the prospect of the battle to come. Charles Markham told the Chesterfield Rotary Club on the 26th September that he did not believe that “this trouble is going to finish without bloodshed”. Asked after the strike whether he realised that miners were in prison for saying less than that, he unconcernedly replied, ‘Oh, yes.” [9]
If the establishment knew what it was doing, the labour movement did not. Hardly any protests were raised against the creation of the OMS. The Daily Herald simply believed it to be an insult to Baldwin. There was a failure to understand that the OMS, the State and the Government were as one. Only the left wing, through the United Front style paper the Sunday Worker and Communist Party, were decisive and clear about the role of the OMS. The Communist Party’s Workers Weekly viewed the organisation as the “most complete scheme of organised blacklegging and strike breaking yet devised, and it is the most advanced form of Fascism yet reached in this country~’. [10] Leading theoretician of the Communist Party, Rajani Palme Dutt, worried that the settlement of Red Friday was only a truce. “The government has made it clear that it regards the present strategic retreat as only a preparation for a decisive conflict in the future.” No one could have seriously suggested any other interpretation of events. Derby ASLEF noted that the reprieve was “only a pause in the fight between the workers and the capitalist class”. Referring to Baldwin’s statement that all workers would have to accept wage cuts, the union branch called for the consolidation of “our forces for the strenuous fight that has to got to come and when the next attack on the workers takes place this branch suggests that our EC propose to the TUC General Council that they call a general stoppage”. Evidence, therefore of some understanding of the impending struggle at the grass roots and that there was a popular feeling for action in defence of the miners and all workers. [11] Throughout 1925, the Workers Weekly carried a box giving the diminishing countdown of the weeks of subsidy left; so many weeks left to prepare for the struggle. Yet the General Council dallied, refusing to prepare right up to the eve of the strike, which was inevitably to follow the end of subsidy. Pressure was repeatedly exerted on the miners’ leaders to accept the new deteriorated conditions. Nothing practical was done, there seemed to be a deliberate policy of averting strike action at all costs. Bevin was to confirm this at the post-mortem conference of joint union executive committees in January 1927: “with regard to preparations for the strike, there were no preparations until April 27th, and I do not want anyone to go away from this conference under the impression that the General Council had any particular plan to run this movement”.
Contrasting with the general militant mood of the 1925 TUC, Labour’s conference that year in Liverpool was seen by some critics as “the signal to the Government to intensify its anti-working class drive”. [12] The conference implicitly invited the Government to launch an offensive against the Communist Party, which would only serve to intimidate the entire left. On October 12th 1925, twelve key national figures of the Communist Party were arrested and subsequently sentenced to terms of six and twelve month’s imprisonment. Protests came flooding in from trade union bodies, especially the miners who foresaw the general intent. Seventy Labour MPs joined the protest and some 300,000 signatures were collected on a petition presented to the parliament by Saklatvala, the Communist MP, in February 1926.
In December 1925 Oswald Mosley, then a leading left wing Labour MP, visited Derbyshire. He had considerable local family connections, especially after the death of his father, Sir Oswald Mosley (Bart) of Hilton Lodge, Derbyshire in 1929. It was revealed that the son had been left out of the will because of his then left-wing views, two years later he had become Britain’s fascist leader. “Comrade Mosley and Lady Cynthia”, his wife, both spoke at the Spondon branch of the Labour Party in 1925. There, they condemned the imprisonment of the twelve Communists. Somewhat ironically, considering Mosley’s later political shift, he unfavourably compared the “prosecution of the Communists and the action of the public prosecutor in withdrawing charges against Fascist young men”. The latter had criminally hijacked a lorry load of Daily Heralds, whereas the twelve Communists had “been sentenced not for doing anything violent, but for expressing their opinion”. [13]
It was this theme of free speech that helped the campaign win such widespread support as it did. In January 1926, Derby’s Labour Party protested at the double standards in imprisoning the twelve COMMUNIST PARTY members, but releasing the “fascists who were responsible for the outrage on the Daily Herald”. [14] Similarly, the month before, Derby Trades Council on the proposition of Reader and Rolley, decided that it “renders its most emphatic protest. This prosecution is contrary to the right of free speech and demands that these working men should be immediately released.” [15] But it had more to do with minimising the power of the militants in the labour movement to act, than with restricting free speech. Despite its tiny size, the Communist Party was able to exert effective leadership that contrasted sharply with the inactivity of the General Council.
In the meantime, the Samuel Commission was meeting. Chaired by Sir Herbert Samuel, the body also consisted of General Lawrence (who was also a banker as well as a military man), Kenneth Lee (chairman of Tootal Cotton Company) and Sir William Beveridge of the London School of Economics. There were no miners, trade unionists or workers’ representatives. Meeting to receive evidence from October to January, the Commission reported in March 1926 when it opposed nationalisation, along with the eight-hour day. Although national agreements and nationalisation of royalties in the future were also vaguely recommended by the Commission. The only immediate and concrete proposal was for 13.5% pay cut A J Cook, the miners leader who was also a member of the minority Marxist trend of the ILP, voiced the reason for their outright rejection; they demanded the slogan of: “Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day”. [161 Against this was the intransigence of the owners. Samuel offered no way out other than conflict, as the nine months subsidy ran out. Anticipating a re-run of 1925, the COMMUNIST PARTY launched a campaign in March for unity between the Triple Alliance and the metal unions. The Party warned of the employers’ general plan to “tie the workers up in a number of enquiries which will begin and terminate at different times and so make united action difficult”. The coal owners threatened a lock out in May and the miners responded by giving notice of a strike. The battle lines were thus drawn. [17]
The necessity of a continuation of the subsidy or some similar solution was clear to the coal miners. Their job was still desperately difficult and dangerous. Youngsters still started their long hard life in the pits at the age of fourteen. Accidents were frequent and horrendous; a miner was killed on average every five hours while, every day, 850 suffered injuries causing more than a week off work. Earnings varied from as little as 8/- a day. Wages had lagged far behind price increases. Yet, despite the coal owners’ pleas of poverty, considerable profits had been made over the previous decade; a total of £261.1 million since 1913, or an average of well over £20 million per annum. A loss was recorded only in one single year – 1922 – and then of only £1.8 million. As well as the profit, considerable royalties were paid to wealthy landowners for the privilege of allowing mining underneath their land. Nobility, such as the Marquis of Bute, Lord Tredegar, the Duke of Hamilton and others, including the Church of England, took vast sums ranging from £80,000 to over a third of a million pounds a year. All of which ate into the profits of the coal owners, who in turn determined that the men would pay for it. [18]
While the coal industry faced enormous difficulties due to the rapacious demands of the owners, hopes of a revival in industry generally were very strong as the 1926 New Year passed. “TRADE OPTIMISM”, read a headline in the Derby Mercury. J A Aiton’s engineering firm was “quite happy regarding the future” and reported a general tendency “towards a more stable condition akin to a pre-war state of affairs”. The large printing firm of Bemrose looked forward to “great things”. British Celanese hoped for a ‘steady trade” in 1926, Brown’s Foundry “continued improvement”, Derwent Foundry for ‘big things”, while English Sewing Cotton Ltd hoped only for ‘fair conditions”. Handyside’s expected “new orders”, Haslam’s Foundry had “a good deal to be thankful for” and Ley’s Malleable hoped for ‘improvement”. Boden’s believed that the new year would be less “unfavourable than 1925”. [19] Everywhere, there was a sense of upturn coming; but if that was so, would industry be back to the revolutionary years of 1919-20? If so, it was absolutely vital to the employer class to arrange a showdown with the unions, so that workers could be kept at bay during the revival in trade. The miners were in the front line of potential conflict and they knew it. Hurriedly, they tried to prepare and alert the labour movement.
Les Clay, then a young man active in the ILP, recalled in later years how, on one of Cook’s visits to Derby in this period, the Grand Theatre was hired for £25. To advertise the meeting, six ILPers “walked around the centre of Derby on the Saturday afternoon wearing sandwich boards and black masks”. A J Cook spoke in a determined way: “We shall be ready in May – prepared to meet the attack on wages better than we were in July” (i.e. Red Friday). Spurning the idea that Thomas might yet ditch the Triple Alliance, Cook believed that the ‘Railwaymen ought to control Thomas”. The audience was doubtful about it all, but Cook made his position clear. “No one man, neither Cook, nor Thomas can control a Union. I am the miners’ servant, and every official ought to express and represent the views of the rank and file or get out. The NUR will come into the Alliance in spite of themselves.” [20]
But, if the miners were ready, their hope that other unions were equally prepared was misplaced. In Derbyshire, the key local officials were noted for their moderation. R E Stokes of the Workers Union was particularly prominent in this regard. “By reason of his work in the Alliance of the Employers and the Employed, and his moderate views, Mr Stokes has not always pleased the extremists”, the local press noted. [21] His view was that collaborationist activities were necessarily in the best interests of the workers. Speaking at the Derby Area Committee of the Industrial Alliance of Employers and Employed, he revealed that he believed that the cautious trade union leader was not always the mere coward that some critics seemed to suppose”. Deprecating the concept of strike action, he argued that “to hold our own in the world’s market, there could be no room in the Trade Union movement for shirkers and slackers”. [22]
Except for the bold and intemperate language, such views were shared by the majority of the elite of MPs, councillors and full time officials that ran Derby’s labour movement. In the countdown to the General Strike, the railways locally seemed more than unusually placid. The NUR rank and file had been pre-occupied from early January with a relatively trifling local argument over meal times, but otherwise there were no major difficulties facing the workers in the rail companies that might match the miners’ problems. It was a deliberate strategy of the employers to keep it that way and most local leaders were happy to go along with that. A private meeting of representatives of the unions and the Labour Party was held at the TGWU offices in the Wardwick in Derby in March. Although furious and fierce criticism of Thomas, both as an MP and as a labour and trade union leader was made, he was easily able to carry the day. He did this by cunningly attacking his opponents as intriguers and “Reds who were ruining the Labour Party”. While some were “striving for revolution”, Thomas declared that he ‘would have nothing to do with the Revolutionary Party”. The meeting overwhelmingly endorsed his report justifying his stance and ended with a rendition of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”. [23]
This set the tone for how the labour movement was supposed to react in Derby and the apparently private meeting was leaked in great detail to the press, perhaps to condition the mass of the workers to accept the inaction. Faced with the sheer fact that a strike would soon begin, the TUC pledged its support to the miners on the 14th April. But, such was its supreme reluctance to move, plans for the conduct of the strike were not made until 27th April. Within three days, a state of emergency was declared. If the TUC had acted with the utmost moderation, the Government did not. Emergency regulations were formulated, local authorities told to enact previously arranged measures, troops were moved to working class areas, and even the Navy was alerted. The Sherwood Forresters’ regimental depot at Derby was placed on alert during the emergency, while many of its four battalions of part time territorial soldiers signed on as special constables. Still no official call had yet been made for strike action.
On Saturday 1st May, this call came at the reconvened conference of trade union Executives, the mandate for which had been the NUVB resolution at the 1925 TUC. At this meeting, J H Thomas made an impassioned speech declaring that no government had “made such a blunder as this Government had made. Not until 1.15 on the day when the notices expired was a definite concrete proposal submitted to the miners … which would have meant such degrading terms that no decent minded man or woman would tolerate.” Again and again, Thomas underlined his distaste for action. He attacked the Government for failing to find a compromise, missing the point that no compromise was intended. “They (i.e. the TUC) begged for peace and still wanted peace” was all Thomas could say. [24] So, even as the TUC was deciding on the General Strike, the seeds of defeat were sown. Ramsay MacDonald was at the conference in his capacity as Labour leader. Sensing the mood of the hall and the movement, he played to the gallery. Yet, he hoped and believed that “something will happen before (the strike) which will enable us to go about our work cheerily, heartily and hopefully during the next week”. [25] The conference emotionally burst out into singing the ‘Red Flag’, when the overwhelming vote for strike action was announced. However, MacDonald was quietly, but absolutely, opposed to the decision and at no stage – even at the height of the strike – did he indicate support for the solidarity action. Amongst workers at large, the general mood was one of enthusiastic readiness to take action. Like most workers, C S Hollis, a NUR activist in Chesterfield, did not hesitate for “we all thought the miners had got a good case”. Desperate though the majority of the TUC General Council was to head off the strike movement, the pressure was too great. Yet, from the start, the workers were handicapped by a leadership more afraid of victory than defeat. On the employers’ side, the Tory Party, the Liberals, Church, Press and State were intent on winning and ready to use every weapon from open conflict to underhand manoeuvring.
Why was this so? The labour movement leadership was motivated by a reformist philosophy, believing that socialism could be won only by step-by-step reform within the existing framework of British society. Their view was that the state was somehow a neutral force, above class and political bias. That the armed forces, the police and the civil service would unhesitatingly serve whichever party won office in Parliament. The notion of class struggle was rejected and the very concept of classes, as distinct and conflicting entities, was denied. Mass struggle was rejected, especially mass struggle outside Parliament. The be-all and end-all of this reformist philosophy was to capture Parliamentary and local council majorities. Within this narrow vision of the world, the role of the worker was simply to vote Labour and the role of the activist merely to win these votes at elections. While the leadership waited in vain for a reprieve, Bevin (then more a centrist than strictly speaking of the right) expressed on the Sunday before the stoppage the sense of passion that existed. “If every penny goes, if every asset goes, history will ultimately write that it was a magnificent generation that was prepared (to strike) rather than see the miners driven down like slaves.” [26] History most certainly records that this was a magnificent generation; whether their leaders, who feared struggle, were so is entirely another question.
2 “Hamlet without the Prince” – the strike in Derbyshire at the beginning
Thomas had cancelled an appointment in Derby on the Friday evening – the 30th -due to the crisis, but indicated his intent to attend the traditional May Day celebrations on the Sunday. In the event, this proved impossible and the excited crowd had to be content with a solidarity telegram from Thomas. However, his notion of solidarity consisted of warning: “outlook intensely black … all who desire peace should strive for settlement. That we will continue to do and I hope we will be successful.” The strike had been called but had not yet even begun and Thomas was seeking its end. His absence from Derby was an important factor, in that no major counter-weight existed to prevent a slide to political militancy in the town and its environs in this highly charged situation. While Thomas has been accurately described as the “greatest buffoon the Labour Movement has known”, he was nonetheless the King of movement in Derby. One local paper thought the Sunday May Day event like “Hamlet without the prince”. [27] As it was, Derby would have to do without its monarch. He had difficulties of his own, having to plead with the NUR executive to “keep out of it”. But he was spurned by his own union, receiving no support at all for this outrageous outlook. More important, in occupying Thomas, was the role he assigned for himself during the strike. For he saw himself as needing to be the one man who kept his finger on the pulse of negotiations between the TUC and the Government, with the aim of finding the first available opportunity to stop it all.
Nationally, most mining areas were locked out from Friday 30th April 1926, although in Derbyshire the men were involved in sympathetic action from that date, technically strikers rather than lock outs. The Derby Telegraph thought it significant that, in most cases, miners took their tools home with them at the end of the Friday shift. It was an odd attempt to imply sinister events were afoot. No one could have seriously doubted that the Derbyshire coalfield would be completely stopped, but perhaps few thought that the miners would not work again for seven months. The coal owners’ ultimatum ran out on midnight on Friday. The next day was Saturday May 1st, international workers day, a day of solidarity, May Day itself. That weekend, with its special almost symbolic significance, was spent in excited anticipation.
St Werburgh’s church in Derby was filled to capacity on the Sunday afternoon for the annual church parade, which in the 1920s was held in conjunction with May Day. The vicar, Canon Blunt, along with Alderman Raynes and Councillor John Cobb, the Labour Party’s agent, addressed the congregation. The keynote of their speeches was to “keep within the law”. Raynes spoke of brotherhood and the need to “keep their courage high”. His call to the workers of Derby was for an example of quiet solidarity and his address was loudly applauded. This display was to the displeasure of Canon Blunt, who urged the congregation to desist from clapping in church even though it was a “silly convention” not to do so. Blunt’s contribution was to preach the parable of the good Samaritan, drawing the lesson that “fair play all round was what was wanted”. [28] The May Day meeting was held that day – the Sunday – in the Central Hall, rather than the traditional venue of the Market Place, supposedly “in view of the uncertainty of the weather”. Nevertheless, such was the turnout that there was an overflow into the Market Place itself. A V Knowles chaired the event, while the secretary of the Trades Council, E Gadsby, of the No.1 branch of the NUR, read Thomas’ telegram and the instructions from the TUC to an audience that showed “intense earnestness in its manifestations of approval of the course adopted by the TUC General Council”. Gadsby viewed the possibility of troops being called out to deal with the situation quite calmly, reminding the meeting “that happened in 1911 and again in 1919 and they knew with what result”. The implication was that such a prospect had already been experienced in highly charged struggles without serious consequences.
Kate Manicom, a London based organiser, spoke for the Workers Union. Promising the active support of women, she drew sharp contrasts between the impoverishment of the workers and the extravagance of their employers. Quoting another trade union official, she ended her speech with the refrain “Thank God for Jim Thomas”, to loud applause. Similarly, Alderman Raynes confirmed that they were all proud that the “great member of Derby was right at the head of that great dispute”. In ten days time such pride would seem misplaced to most unionised workers. Both Manicom and Raynes were at pains to call for restraint and the latter declaimed loud and emotional pride in the “Socialist International Movement”. Rhetorically, he demanded, “Are the workers of Derby this time going to rise to the occasion and be loyal?” His audience responded with cheers, applause and cries of “YES!”. The enthusiasm had to be tempered though; “sit still and keep the law, whatever happened … disregard any instructions that were not signed by the president and secretary of the TUC”, Raynes warned the crowd. The rally ended by acclaiming an enthusiastic resolution, moved by Stokes of the WU and seconded by Cobb.
The main speakers at the Derby meeting were philosophical about the use of troops and this was the case everywhere. At Long Eaton, the prospective Labour candidate for South Derbyshire, Major David Graham-Pole, an ILPer and former secretary of the Indian Home Rule League, told the May Day demonstration that he thought the miners were right to stand firm and that “troops were already being moved about and reserves were being called up, but if the workers sat down with folded arms the lock out would end within a week”. Again, the message was sit tight and do nothing.
In the meantime, rather than wait a week, Thomas tried to do a deal that very day by selling out the miners. However, the Tory Cabinet refused to play along with this; they wanted a battle to the very end, deciding the problem of the coalfields once and for all. The refusal of the Daily Mail print workers to print a vicious scare story, which implied armed revolution was about to break out, was seized upon by the Government to end the negotiations. They had prepared for this for nine months and did not want to be cheated of the satisfaction of total victory, which Thomas’ actions told the Government was now possible. The Government’s careful preparations were brought into play. Derbyshire and five other counties formed the North Midlands Division, under the control of Captain H Douglas King MP, who was deemed Civil Commissioner and based at Nottingham. Local councils were well prepared for the dispute and immediately sprang into action, in an attempt to alleviate the impact of the General Strike. In Derby, Mayor S Collins appealed for volunteers to sign up at the recruiting office at the Town Hall and 1,677 people rapidly enrolled for emergency work. The Food Committee laid plans for a rationing scheme, should it prove necessary. Derby’s Postmaster asked the public to refrain from using postal, telegraphic and telephone services if at all possible.
Posters and leaflets were released by the Derby Borough under the signature of the Town Clerk, G Trevelyan Lee, detailing the “Coal (Emergency) Directions 1926”. As these were dated the 3rd of May, they had presumably been printed well before the strike and in anticipation of it. The regulations dictated that no more than one hundredweight of coal be used in any home in one week, or 50% of the usual supply in any works. The use of light for advertisement was prohibited and the supply of gas or electricity was restricted to 50% of the average quantity used by the last reading of the meter. Exemption could be granted, but only by obtaining a special permit from Frank Cooper at the Borough accountants’ office in Babington Lane and then only when very good reasons prevailed. In the north of the county, the Civil Commissioner opened offices at the Market Hall in Chesterfield to receive the 625 volunteers who subsequently enrolled to transport food and fuel and to assist in the maintenance of light and power. A recruitment sub-office was established at Buxton very soon afterwards and 130 strikebreaking volunteers were enrolled there.
Local authorities, even where they were Labour controlled, willingly assumed the responsibilities asked of them by the central Government. In Chesterfield, the Labour Lord Mayor, Alderman H Cropper, claimed that the council “represented the whole of the ratepayers and (their) position should be entirely neutral … (they were) acting on specific instructions from the Government”. [28] While the Government was imposing duties on local councils, which might certainly have limited the opportunities for Labour councillors to act in assistance of the strike, the notion that they did not have to act as representatives of their class came straight out of reformist ideology. This saw central and local state machinery as somehow neutral, apolitical and above class. The role, which such authorities as the Chesterfield council adopted, was in practice a strike breaking one, as the Government played a clever political game with the organs of state power in what was essentially an industrial dispute.
A special meeting of Chesterfield Borough’s General Purposes Committee on the 4th May resolved to take whatever steps were necessary to maintain electricity and gas services. The Tramways Committee met the same day to decide on a skeleton motor omnibus service, to be operated by the council during the emergency in place of its normal service. An emergency committee for Chesterfield’s volunteer services was set up by Cropper. The town clerk was responsible for food, the borough surveyor for roads. Both the LMS and the LNER provided officials responsible for railways. While an agent for a local coal merchant’s was responsible for coal distribution. The postmaster was responsible to the committee for postal services and the borough provided a committee member concerned with finance. Ministry of Health circulars were enthusiastically put into operation by the council.
Although Cropper was at pains to distance his emergency committee from the semi-governmental Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS), which managed the entire strikebreaking operation, he did repetitively quote Ramsay MacDonald’s view that there could only be one government at a time of national crisis. Indeed, Cropper reminded Labour councillors that the skeleton of the emergency organisation had been set up under MacDonald’s government. Whatever the convoluted logic employed by Cropper, the practical result of the Council’s actions were to undermine the strike in the area covered by the Borough – Chesterfield, Dronfield, Bolsover, Clay Cross, Clowne, Blackwell, all mining districts. Mayor Cropper went further, announcing the provision of recreation and sport and music services by the authority. An appeal was made to the local cinemas to open their premises for Sunday evening concerts, all in the name of keeping the strikers happy, contented and above all quiet.
[29] Ilkeston Borough Council rationed food and coal supplies and asked for reports of profiteering. More positively, soup kitchens were opened for the children of strikers. The Derby Gas Company considered itself in a good position “in regard to supplies of coal”, while the Derby Corporation Electricity Department reported that there were no dangers of a “curtailment of services”. Indeed the department prided itself on “having made provision for all difficulties that may arise”. [30]
While preparations of such a character were brought to fruition throughout the country, the TUC was unmoved and little was done to counteract this hostile preparation. None of it could possibly have been a surprise. Quite apart from the connivance of Labour authorities and councillors, it had (as Cropper repeatedly reminded his Labour councillors) been Ramsay MacDonald’s Government that had introduced the strike breaking mechanisms in 1924. There was therefore no way that the Labour leadership could have been unaware of the Government’s steady preparations. While the links between the TUC and the Labour Party, at the level of senior leadership, were close. Thomas, for one, would have been aware of the plans. The TUC did at least see some value in propaganda, for both the Government and the TUC produced their own newspapers, in the absence of Fleet Street and much of the provincial press. The Government paper, the British Gazette, was edited by Winston Churchill and printed on the Daily Mail presses, it was distributed in Derby by a fleet of vehicles loaned by George Usher, the owner of International Combustion. While supplies were erratic at first, after some days most of Derbyshire was able to receive at least some copies of the Gazette. In Chesterfield, newsagents helped to distribute and sell the paper, which maintained a vigorously hostile attitude to the strike throughout. In its first edition, it opened the propaganda war by accusing the TUC of open political revolutionary aims, a claim so wildly far from the truth that in retrospect it seems farcical.
Counter to this, but after some delay, the TUC published the British Worker on the presses of the Daily Herald, utilising volunteer print workers who were on strike. The Worker replied to the Gazette’s wild accusations with the mild rebuke that the TUC politely but firmly wished to “emphasise the fact that this is an industrial dispute”. While this was essentially true, the TUC blindly refused to face up to the obvious political implications of the strike. This attitude had important practical as well as ideological results. For the importance of the situation demanded that there be a strike committee in every locality, mobilising every striker out on the streets in picketing or propaganda work. The TUC thought otherwise and could only have thought so on the basis that it did not intend to effectively prosecute the strike. The British Worker told the strikers: “The General Council suggests that in all districts, where large numbers of workers are idle, sports should be organised and entertainments arranged. This will both keep a number of people busy and provide amusement for many more.” [31]
Only three unions out of 1,100 failed to honour the strike, which started from midnight Monday May 3rd. The General Council reported stupendous solidarity, which “surpassed all our expectations … The difficulty of the General Council has been to keep men in what we might call the second line of defence rather than call them all out.” A telegram dispatched at 6pm on Saturday called out only “front-line workers”, i.e. some builders, all transport workers, the printing industry, steel, chemical and power workers. The ‘second-line’, that is to say the rest of the movement, was to be held in reserve. [32]
In Derbyshire, all Trent Motor Traction bus services stopped from midnight without any hesitation. Tramway workers employed by Derby Corporation met on the evening before the deadline, stopping the scheduled trams for the night while they considered their position, They too responded solidly from midnight, after their mass meeting. Thus most public transport was out of action in the Derby area, only the Blue Bus Company of Willington kept going throughout the strike. However it was only a tiny service, privately owned and non-unionised, The company’s historian has revealed that ‘it had been said that in case of trouble a gun was carried aboard the bus”! [33] By the morning, Derby’s streets were crowded with workers showing “the extensiveness of the industrial stoppage in Derby. Only 2 trains ran on the LMS this morning … No trams and only a few buses ran. The whole of the transport services are paralysed”, the local press revealed.
Despite not being called out by the TUC, the AEU membership at Rolls Royce in Derby spontaneously came out on strike that Monday morning and other unions followed their lead. Compositors at the Derby newspapers came out, causing the Express to produce a duplicated typewritten sheet. All of the workers at Bemrose printers, both men and women, came out and the coal deliverymen at the Co-op stopped work. Cardboard box workers at the Foreman Street factory walked out. [34] Most of the stone quarries in Derbyshire were immediately closed, if for no other reason than lack of transport, although most quarrymen came out in the solidarity action except for the Wirksworth area. [35] The railway workshops closed completely and pickets remained at the Loco Works throughout. Les Clay, an AEU activist, recalled the work of the picket: “Occasionally a bloke would arrive for work. We persuaded them it was pointless to go in, because there was no work to do.” [36] Beer deliveries were held up at some of the big breweries in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, but the Gazette reported that “tenants of public houses are motoring to the breweries and bringing away supplies”. [37]
Thousands stopped in Derby, many more than were requested to do so. There were so many that special signing on places for union benefits were arranged and publicised, The AEU paid out at the Labour Exchange in London Road, while the NUR’s Nos. 2 and 3 branches shared Unity Hall with the joiners. Nos. 1 and 4 NUR branches signed on at the Temperance Hall, along with the TGWU. All the building trades, except the joiners, used the Clarion Club. While the Railway Clerks, the Bookbinders and the printers went along with the shop workers to the Labour Party headquarters. [38] Apart from union benefits, there was the possibility of public relief payments from the Board of Guardians for some strikers and their families received over £727 from the Derby Guardians during the dispute. [39] Shop committees of direct representatives from the workplaces were affiliated to the Derby Trades Council’s strike committee. [40] The DLP executive joined the committee as well, making it deeply representative of the town’s labour movement. There were two representatives from each of the following trades and workshop committees:
Printing          Railway and Transport
Building         Railway Carriage and Wagon Shop Committee
Engineering Railway Allied Engineering Shop Committee
The overall strike committee set up specialist sub-committees – some with more serious intent than others: [41]
Engineering Publicity
Transport    Sports
Dispatch    Distress
The Transport sub-committee was formed of road and rail unions, its formal title was the “Derby and District Joint Transport Strike Committee”, and there were a total of 21 delegates. As elsewhere, it was given delegated authority by the TUC to deal with transport permits. A presentation photograph of the committee survives and used to be displayed at the TGWU offices in Derby. The members of the committee were:
                            B Green            S Pickering
                            A W Smith        R C Werrett
                            W Rose             E Hutchinson
                            J E Gapp          W G Clarke
                            F Humphries   E W Key
                            R Bridge           E Naylor
                            H B Walton      W Ball
                            F Haslam          H Beeson
                            A Goodwin       W Hurst
                            E Gadsby         A W Mallett
                                           E Garratt
The Co-ops were magnificent. In Derby, arrangements were made for the issuing of food vouchers on the guarantee of the various trade unions. The DCS Board set up a sub-committee to confer with the strike committee, for the society believed itself to be the “feeder of fighters” and in consequence would seek to maintain food supplies. Moreover, the Co-op was able to assist the unions directly, by ensuring that branch secretaries of trade unions in the town were able to cash cheques forwarded to them by central offices for dispute benefits. While the quarterly DCS meeting in May sanctioned the paying out of £50,000 in `dlvi’ money, which naturally helped many. The Ripley Co-op offered its halls for the use of strikers’ meetings. [42] Indeed, throughout the area, ILP halls, Labour Party rooms and miners’ welfares were turned into communications centres from which came instructions. These centres and committees gradually became, in effect, almost like an alternative government. In some areas, as councils of action, they were potentially a direct challenge to the established power, practically running the locality. The State’s official emergency committees often had to liaise with the strike centre, to obtain sanction for the movement of certain goods.
Most newspapers being out of action, the NUJ executive agreed that, to allow strike bulletins to be produced, it was “permissible for our members to work on make-shift papers which are being produced by labour which cannot permanently displace men who are out on strike”. [43] So the strike committees were often able to produce quite well written duplicated newssheets. The ‘Sheffield Forward’ strike bulletin had a worker correspondent in Chesterfield who provided details to the newssheet about events in the Derbyshire coalfield. Another miner, Albert Vincent Williams (better known as Vin), a Mossborough man, produced the ‘Derbyshire Chronicle’ daily with assistance from Joe Lynch. Williams was also a part-time organiser for the Labour Party. The Derbyshire Chronicle was produced as a halfpenny newssheet at the Chesterfield Trade Council offices in the Miners’ Welfare. Twelve despatch riders toured the county, bringing in news and the papers were collected by them at around 4am or Sam, for distribution each morning. The Derbyshire bulletin differed sharply from the Derby strike bulletin, in that the former was thoroughly vitriolic in style. Its third issue declared, “Blood is thicker than water, as the trite saying goes. The ruling class can don our class in soldiers’ clothes, but the working class heart pulsates beneath.” [44] This was in response to the news that Welsh Guards in London were supposed to have refused to act against strikers. The statement was subsequently to have grave legal consequences for Williams and only three issues of the Chronicle were issued after this controversy, for fear of involving the unions in libel actions.
The Derby strike bulletin was produced officially on behalf of the central strike committee by the Labour Party’s agent, Councillor John Cobb, and the DTC secretary, E Gadsby, on a Gestetner duplicator at the Labour Party offices at 63 London Road. It appeared from the first day to the last day of the strike, often with mid-day as well evening editions. Selling it at a penny a copy, local newsboys took them off the strike committee for thirteen copies for 1/-. The total income received over the ten days by the strike committee for sales of the bulletin was £92 17s 2d. So, taking into account the profit to the sellers, over 24,000 copies were sold, presumably at the rate of a couple of thousand copies a day. In Ripley, a local bulletin was produced but only in small quantities, enough to post outside the committee room and similar places. [45]
These bulletins were an open and obvious direct target for the authorities, especially the more militant publications. In a flagrant attack against the effectiveness of such bulletins, the Communist Party headquarters in Birmingham were raided and presses, papers and people were seized. The Party had printed four issues of the Birmingham Worker, which circulated widely in the Midlands. Issues specifically designed for Wolverhampton and Derby were confiscated in the raid. [46] Strikers and supporters who distributed strike bulletins were subjected to intimidation by the law as much as were the printers. Joseph Fretwell of Pinxton was bound over in the sum of £20 for six months and had to pay costs of £3 7s 0d for having “on premises in his occupation a document likely to cause disaffection amongst the civil population.” He had displayed a copy of the strike bulletin issued by the Alfreton strike committee in the window of his home on May 10th and the Hyde Park story had been printed in it. Arthur Wilkinson of South Normanton was similarly dealt with for the temerity of selling six copies of the Alfreton bulletin. [47] Apart from these strike bulletins, some parts of the country were starved of news. However, in Derbyshire all the local newspapers were generally available, albeit in reduced form. Needless to say, they were intensely biased against the strike. While the printers at the Derby Daily Express struck, the journalists remained to produce a scab newssheet throughout. The quality and size of the paper desired much, mostly due to the journalists’ inability, or unwillingness, to solve the difficulties of setting typeface.
Some compositors at the Sheffield Telegraph returned to work, enabling a rough edition to come out on Wednesday. While, the next day, the Sheffield Independent came out as a newssheet. Both circulated in the north eastern part of the county. The weekly Derbyshire Times was printed in its usual format, for it was normally produced by non-union labour. (The paper was to be the last significant printing firm in the county to become unionised.) The Derbyshire Times made great play of its neutrality and its intent to “give all sections of its readers a fair and un-biased account of the position as it affects both sides”. It claimed that it would be strictly non-political. These lofty aims set for itself were not in fact reflected in the columns of the paper. If news was always distorted according to whether it was a scab journal or a strike bulletin, in general hard news was limited and scarce throughout the strike. For example, Belper was reported as being “completely isolated as far as news is concerned. Not a single paper of any description was on sale after Tuesday and this absence of news gave birth to some extravagant rumours”. Sandiacre and Stapleford were deprived of newspapers until May 7th, when an edition of the Ilkeston Pioneer arrived. Ilkeston itself was without papers until late Friday, when a car appeared from Leicester laden with newspapers. The local strike committee warned a newsagent not to bring any more strike breaking newspapers into the town, but Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby newspapers were on sale from the weekend onwards. [48]
The strike was as solid amongst trades unionists outside Derby in the county as in the town. In Chesterfield, some of the engineering works tried to keep going if they could. But the major ones, like those of the Sheepbridge and Staveley companies, completely closed down for the duration of the strike making no attempt even to try to open. One week before the start of the strike, 400 workers at Staveley’s Devonshire works and foundries were given notice that, during the crisis, they would be on day-to-day contracts instead of the usual weekly ones. This was to facilitate the immediate suspension of the workforce, in the event of lack of work due to shortage of supplies. Some 1,300 came out on strike on May 3rd, while another 800 or so came out at Sheepbridge works.
Only eight of Chesterfield’s corporation buses and only one of its trams ran on Tuesday 4th. Six corporation employees who were not union members, plus some dozen ‘volunteers’, ran the service as conductors, conductresses and drivers. This was much to the displeasure of the strikers, who gathered that evening in large numbers at their depot to voice disapproval at the strikebreaking. The next day eleven buses were on the road, yet most of the volunteers left a lot to be desired in their ability to do the job. At all Chesterfield Corporation bus stops messages were chalked on the pavements: “Please do not ride on the buses – Blackleg labour”. For the council allowed untrained drivers, young middle-class students and the like, having a great lark while strike breaking, to take control of the buses. The strikers saw this as putting the public in grave danger, at a time when not only were legislative controls on driver quality generally very weak, but public service vehicle regulations were minimal. Strike committee member Joseph Lynch wrote to the Derbyshire Times, stating that he had been talking to a ‘volunteer’ driver who admitted to only a short experience in driving and that only by lessons given to him by his father. How could Labour councillors ignore this sort of thing, considering the borough’s motto ‘safety first”, Lynch wanted to know?
The railwaymen of Chesterfield were as solid as bus workers. Only three trains came through or left the town on Tuesday May 4th. There were no trains at the Market Street station. However, two ran from the Central station on the Manchester to London route. One strikebreaking signalman manned the vital Tapton junction, a bed being placed in the signal box and provisions being delivered daily from Hasland by a light engine. The NUR strike headquarters were in the Marquess of Hartington pub in Chesterfield’s Salisbury Street and this, with the overwhelming majority of men out, proved to be a hive of activity.
A private bus company, Underwood’s, proved a source of much activity. A non-union firm, it kept a skeleton service going, most employees being fearful of their job. Although all of the conductresses came out on strike. Conditions of work at Underwood’s were described as “slave labour”. Five NUR pickets turned out at Sam one morning during the strike, locating themselves outside the single entrance to the depot in Pond Street with the aim of stopping the buses. The leaders of the small group were Jack Wilkinson, the NUR branch secretary, and 1 J Mitchell, later to be a Mayor of Chesterfield. Mitchell’s house was kept under constant police surveillance during the strike. But the picket was unable to persuade the drivers not to cross the line, so on Thursday May 6th a large crowd gathered outside Underwood’s Clowne depot. Stones were thrown at a bus as it left the depot and glass was scattered across the road. Later that morning, police boarded the buses in service, so that they could protect the scab drivers. Despite this, the company decided to suspend operations from Clowne altogether for the time being.
Some Underwood’s services were allowed to run through however. Up to the Thursday, the Chesterfield to Barrow Hill and Clapwell to Matlock routes were kept on after the DMA asked for this to allow miners the opportunity to pick up their previous week’s wages. But the battle against Underwood’s continued at Clowne, when some 50 strikers gathered to fill three lorries, which were “chartered” by three men and three women. Travelling to Chesterfield the lorries stopped just inside the borough, blocking the road to Underwood’s buses and forcing the passengers off. The local press claimed that the bus crews were “assaulted”. Whatever the nature of the incident, the six organisers of the picket were charged under the emergency regulations with acting in a manner likely to ‘impede, delay or restrict the measures taken for maintaining the means of locomotion”. Not, it should be noted, for an offence of violence, Subsequently, the men received one month’s imprisonment, The women were bound over for three months, a punishment which restricted their future strike activities.
In common with other towns, Chesterfield had its own strike committee. The twelve members of which met from the very first day of the strike until the end, Its members were:
          Frank Hall                     (DMA secretary)
          George Spencer         (DMA compensation agent)
          Henry Hicken              (DMA treasurer)
          Joseph Lynch             (possibly NUR)
          Vincent Williams         (miner and editor of strike bulletins)
          Alice Wild                     (NUDAW)
          Anne Astwood            (Communist Party)
The strike committee would hold its special tactical meeting at 6pm each evening, but otherwise met in permanent session at the Miners’ Welfare in Chester Street. Alice Wild presided, while 24-year-old Communist Anne Astwood was secretary. The latter worked at Robinson’s, the surgical dressings manufactures, The manual workers at this firm were solidly out on strike, despite the TUC directive for such workers not to take action. Most of the manual workers were in the AEU, but the office staff was not at this stage organised. Anne Astwood was the only office worker who came out. Recalling all this, in an interview in 1973, she remembered that her father had said: ‘You’re a member of a Trade Union, you come out.” It was as simple as that. Anne Astwood had the advantage of her father’s strong views to sustain her in these dramatic times. He was an engineer at the Scarsdale Poor Law Institution and he had never hesitated to support any group of workers in struggle. In a previous battle, when locked out miners marched through Chesterfield, he had taken the clothes of the marchers to fumigate them at the Institution. [49]
In Ripley, the Trades Council called an immediate meeting of all trade union branches to form a central strike committee. A good response from both affiliated and unaffiliated organisations was reported. Although, the strength of the strike in the building trade in Ripley was especially thought of as being “bad” by the Trades Council in its post-strike report. This noted that other trades could be described as having a “good” strike response. Skilled tradesmen seem to have particularly responded well, for the strike committee was driven to comment that, in industries other than the building trade, general labour was badly organised. [50] There were regular meetings at the Ripley Co-op Hall, where the ‘Labour Party and miners leaders lent their voices to the cause”. [51] At the Ripley collieries, a federated labour board was set up to ensure that authorised safety men, employed at the pits during the strike to maintain the workings for the eventual return, were properly issued with permits by the unions to do so. There was also a check that they were themselves trades unionists and would confine their activities to normal duties.
llkeston had a particularly active central strike committee, which sent a daily message to the TUC on its work, On the 7th May it reported that the “stoppage is proceeding in a most orderly fashion, with determination to stand fast until victory is won for the miners”, On the following day: “All workers solid.” Only a few buses ran from Ilkeston after the first Tuesday. On Saturday two went to Derby, one to Hallam Fields, two to Nottingham and three to Heanor, The private bus owners met the strike committee and it was agreed that the works services would operate from Monday only, so long as the passengers were using the same bus as before the strike. [52] There was an “almost total suspension of rail, bus and tramway services at Ilkeston. Private bus proprietors attempted to run the usual service to Nottingham, but were stopped there, and returned empty, passengers having to walk back.” [53] There was a ‘feeding centre’ in Ilkeston’s Gladstone Street, This concerned itself with providing meals for needy children, During the long months that were to follow, as the miners stayed out alone, the centre was overwhelmed with the demands of many extra mouths. In the month of April alone 1,899 meals were provided at a cost of £30 9s 7d. [54] In the seven days from May 8th, at the height of the General Strike, 3,914 meals were served, at the cost of £200, This was almost double the usual level which applied during the miners’ lone dispute, since so many were now out on strike, [55]
Alfreton, then mainly a pit village, was of course solid from day one. There, as elsewhere in the county, the Miners’ Welfare committee arranged talks and concerts, for little picketing was needed in the coalfields. On Wednesday, the Derby Daily Express was to deny that buses had been overturned, but suggested that attempts had been made to intimidate drivers and conductors of the small private firm of Barton’s, Chapman’s of Belper, maintained a service and the owner denied that any interference had been made with his buses. In general, there was little sign of violence and only good-humoured exuberance, But strike breaking ‘volunteer’ services continued to expand rapidly. Alderman Ling, the chair of Derby’s volunteers, reportedly thought that “things are going smoothly”. Branches of the service were opened in Alfreton, Matlock and Swadlincote. In the meantime, the Derby Strike Committee was more concerned to get the massive numbers of people, seen on the streets on Tuesday, off the streets and pro-occupied with ‘safe’ matters. To that end, a concert was held for strikers at the Central Hall on Wednesday and the strike bulletin advised strikers to “go into the fields and gardens to avoid congestion”. That evening, W R Raynes told the Town Council that the strike would not interfere with the house-building programme: “The workers in Derby … would see that house building went on.” [56] Raynes should not have had any difficulty in delivering on his promise, The TUC had exempted social responsibility building work and his own old union, the NASOHSPD painters, had sent telegrams instructing ‘all members not engaged on Housing and Public Health services to refrain from starting work on Tuesday morning”. [57]
Moreover, there was currently a major slum clearance programme taking place in the town. A massive target of 1,240 houses actually under construction and 562 more with approved contracts only marginally bit into Derby’s particularly severe housing problem. However, Raynes had reckoned without the spirit of solidarity and enthusiasm for the strike, which spread rapidly. All building operatives in the town were asked to cease work at 5.30 pm on Friday evening, in notices signed by local officials of the various trades, Paviours employed by the Corporation and workers of companies engaged on housing contracts all came out without notice to their employers. The decision to do so was motivated by a feeling that the TUC’s instructions on housing and hospital work were unfair, in that some members of the construction unions would lose wages while others were working normally. ‘One out all out’ was a time honoured motto in the building industry and Derby followed it with a vengeance, Some contractors tried to carry on with apprentices and non-union men, who were not usually time-served. One can only guess at the structural consequences from the little work that was done. [58]
Many industries had to cope with the damage done by strikebreaking and ‘volunteer’ labour. There were many serious examples of how inefficient and indeed dangerous the railways had become under the non-union labour. One rail worker, walking from Spondon to Derby via the railway line held up his hand to a passenger train and the driver stopped to pick him up! Some cases were less dangerous, but equally comic. One scab driven train left Derby for Leicester, but got lost around the Trent River, arriving nearly four hours late. While it was a standing joke that the ‘volunteers’ had a “new set of gates for every train”, after amateur drivers had “fetched down once or twice” the level crossing gates at Beighton. [59] With much of Derbyshire’s transport strike-bound, people found other ways of getting around. Owners of the few private cars that then existed took to giving lifts to complete strangers. Although Barton’s did occasionally get its hourly service from Derby to Nottingham running, in the main, most towns and villages were isolated from one another.
Thursday and Friday were pay days for most workers and there were problems everywhere over the payment of wages. A crowd of two hundred gathered outside the Carriage and Wagon works, hoping for their wages as usual, But the Midland Railway Company used an excuse, that so many clerks had taken solidarity action, to delay the payout by several days. [60] The Thursday edition of the strike bulletin reported that the “chairman of the Derby Shops Committee had been informed that the LMS have not sufficient money at Derby to pay wages to those at work.” Despite such experiences, there was still in general a spirit of almost carnival gaiety, On the Thursday afternoon, a concert was held at the Central Hall at 3pm and a film was shown at the Temperance Hall at 7.30 pm. Both were followed by a voluntary collection for the strike committee’s funds, but were otherwise free to strikers.
An idea of the sort of concerts laid on for the strikers is revealed by a printed programme of the time. The still-existing, typed Gestetner cyclostyle stencil presumably contains the front and back of the programme – perhaps inside there were song-sheets? The stencil was deposited with original copies of the strike bulletin at Derby’s Local Studies Library. There is no certain identification of it as being from the strike period, but it seems very much like the sort of entertainment that would have been provided. [61]

(Front side of programme)

by the
Presented by Mr Albert E Baker
Miss Wynne Robinson             Soprano
Miss Kitty Boston                      Pianist & Accompanist
Little Babs Kinsey                     Juvenile Prodigy
Mr Bert E F Bainbrigge             Tenor
Mr J Marsden-Starkey              Scottish Comedian
Mr Albert E Baker                       Light Comedian
(Rear side of programme)
Mr Albert E Baker
43 Handel Street
Mr Francis Fisher
The House
Litchurch Gas Works
Mr J F Flint-Bainbrigge
79 London Road
In a similar vein, the local press reported that “most of the Amusement Houses of Derby are attracting large audiences in the evenings, but business is reported to be below normal in the afternoons.” The large crowds which gathered in the streets during the day seeking excitement, much to the consternation of trade union leaders, did not find it in the picture houses.
There was a desperate desire for news, which when it came gave no hint of the disappointments to come. After all, even J H Thomas was quoted by the Derby strike bulletin as having “confidence in the Derby workers” and believing that “the most remarkable feature (was) the wonderful response made by the Railway Clerks Association”. [62] Moreover, had not Thomas stated in the House of Commons that he had “IN HIS POCKET IN THE PRIME MINISTER’S WRITING THE BASIS OF A SETTLEMENT … THE PRIME MINISTER DID NOT DENY THIS”. [63] Thus proclaimed the strike bulletin. Victory must have seemed very close.
The following day, Rolls Royce agreed to pay wages at the usual pay stations from 4.30 pm. With pay in their pockets, the weekend approached and the dispute was solid. Everything must have seemed perfect to the strikers. Friday’s mid-day strike bulletin revealed that a special messenger had arrived from the TUC the previous night. He had reported that the position was solid “all the way along” from London. Ever anxious to avoid accusations of revolutionary activity, the General Council’s message was again emphasised in the strike bulletin: “we are engaged in an INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE”. Nationally, all transport was reported to be at a halt. “All tram and busmen out solid.” [64] While new sections continued to enter the dispute, often unasked. Members of the Sheet Metal Workers, Heating and Domestic Engineers Union pledged to withdraw labour, while those expected to remain at work would levy themselves 5/- a week during the dispute.
As the weekend approached, the position at Ilkeston was considered quiet, All the collieries there were out solidly and the blast furnaces at Stanton were damped down. [65] All the blast furnaces in the country were out, except parts of Staveley and one other, At Ilkeston, miners drew chalk circles on street corner pavements for passers-by to drop coins into for their fund. Only 5% of clerks and 2.5% of traffic grades had reported for duty at the LNER establishments in the North Midlands generally. This was a phenomenal response for what some saw as one of the weakest unionised companies. The Derby strike committee was still worried about crowds in the streets. Making the point that “the men in Derby are as solid as ever and as keen”, the local bulletin demanded strict discipline from the strikers, Yet another concert was arranged at the Co-op Hall and a cinema showing was held at the Temperance Hall on Friday evening. All to keep spirits high and order certain. Some strikers made their own entertainment, that of disrupting the efforts of strike breaking labour! [66]
At 8 pm on Friday evening, about 25 busmen who were on strike boarded the scab private bus of Messrs Dean and Tailby at Derby’s Cheapside, Only a few other passengers were able to get on the bus which was bound for Burton, so that the rest of the queue had to stay behind. But the strikers refused to pay their fares before the bus moved off and again after it had travelled about 50 yards. As two policemen then got on the bus, a few did agree to pay their fares by the time the bus had got to Littleover. Some scrambled out through the windows to avoid paying and all of the strikers, after getting off at Littleover, marched back into the town in military formation. No doubt after appropriate refreshments, the strikers tried their hand again – for another bus was highjacked at 11 pm in Derwent Street. [67] Very late that night the MP for Ilkeston, G H Oliver, arrived in Derbyshire from London, having travelled all the way by road, Only one of about 60 signal boxes were open that day, making it impossible for even the very few scab trains to operate. Oliver reported that “everywhere the strike was solid.” [68] To keep morale high, plenty of activities were arranged for the weekend.
On both Saturday and Sunday, R Taylor MP addressed meetings held under the auspices of the TUC. Mass meetings were arranged for the Saturday in Normanton Recreation Ground at 3 pm and Chester Green at 7 pm. On Sunday, the meetings were held at Alveston Recreation Ground at 3 pm and Markeaton Park at 7 pm. Large numbers turned out to listen and applaud at the various rallies. The Sunday events were particularly well attended, despite the fact that a wireless bulletin had broadcast that ‘an appeal has been made to observe today as a day of rest”, Even during that weekend it was reported that buses were still coming off the road, as crews – probably non-unionised at that – joined the strike. A BBC wireless, or radio, bulletin at 1.00 pm on Saturday the 8th May was recorded verbatim by the Derby strike committee. It revealed, without stating the location or the name of the company, that 160 buses of a large North Derbyshire omnibus firm had stopped. [69] Perhaps Underwood’s had finally succumbed?
As the strike developed, the Government showed clearly that it took for granted that the full apparatus of the State was its to utilise at will. All of the coercive and administrative powers in society were gathered around the Government, The British Gazette informed the armed forces that any action they found necessary “to aid the Civil Power will receive, both now afterwards, the full support of His Majesty’s Government”. [70] With this carte blanche, there was no formal restraint on any action to beat the strike and the law was geared to defend the establishment. Strikers, not strikebreakers, were arrested for trivial matters. Strikebreakers could do no wrong. The rowdy and often drunk young ‘volunteers’ crashed trains, lorries and buses in many parts of the country and not a word was said, For the strikers, it was a crime to even put their point of view to soldiers, even to the extent of Possessing a leaflet which the State believed could cause disaffection. The strike was widely declared to be illegal very quickly, despite the normal slow movement of the judicial system and without a single court hearing to determine this. Censorship was the order of the day for every journal, except the British Gazette which daily falsely proclaimed the strike to have revolutionary intent. Even after the end of the General Strike, it was not uncommon for working class papers to appear with large portions of their columns quite blank, other than an explanatory note to the effect that the deletion had been ordered under the Emergency Powers Act.
On May 8th, the Chesterfield magistrates met under the chairmanship of C P Markham, director and owner of Staveley Coal and Iron Company, Markham Engineering, Sheepbridge Works and numerous collieries, it seems superfluous to speculate on Markham’s impartiality or otherwise, Especially considering the terms of his statements from the bench. Markham made an appeal for law and order, while favouring the conspiracy theory of history as far as the strike was concerned, “Any changes that were desired”, he commented, “must be brought about by constitutional methods and not by German money which came into this country under the cloak of Bolshevism. The present trouble was brought about by nothing but the money which had poured into this country. The Government had ample proof of that,” Markham believed, No such proof has to date emerged, nor is it ever likely to. But, as with all smears, it is the immediate impact of outrageous claims that is of value to those who make them, In response to such utter rubbish as this, all Councillor Wicks for Chesterfield’s Labour Party could do was to call for law and order at a mass meeting in the Market Square.
The State mobilised all its resources, even those that were ostensibly part of civil society. An official communiqué argued that “an organised attempt is being made to starve the people and wreck the state.” [71] Cardinal Bourne, for the Catholics, declared the strike to be a “direct challenge to lawfully constituted authority … a sin against the obedience which we owe God”; and man presumably? [72] The leader of the established church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, did eventually call for a “reasonable but generous settlement of the present difficulty”. However, he was deliberately kept off the air by the BBC until mid-day on May 10th. The Liberal leader Sir John Simon, a former Attorney General, claimed the strike to be unconstitutional and that every striker could be sued for personal breach of contract, Every trade union leader, he argued, could be called upon to pay damages, even to the extent of bankrupting individuals. Mr Justice Astbury said that the strike was contrary to British law. Despite all this authoritative comment, no such prosecutions ever followed under the constitutional aspects of law cited. The point was to blast all of this over the air via the BBC, which still refused to broadcast the Archbishop of Canterbury’s conciliatory statement, for the reason that it included calls for Government subsidies. In the face of all this, the TUC advised football matches!
It is naturally difficult to assess the full impact of the strike in the county, because of the distorting work of the various strikebreaking newspapers. Strike bulletins reported on outside activity in the main, as a lively ‘bush telegraph’ operated between nearby localities, Working class communities were much more closely-knit than in the present day, so it was common knowledge which workplaces were on strike and which were not. The Derby Daily Express consequently stressed those firms which worked normally, almost as if were the general situation. Whereas, in fact most of the industrial districts of Swadlincote, Derby, the Erewash Valley, Amber Valley and Chesterfield and its immediate surrounds were at a near standstill, The Express did concede this in a roundabout way, but went on to list all those still working. “Despite the fact that thousands of men are on strike in Derby, many firms are carrying on as usual, All the craftsmen were out at Aiton’s, but the works were left open and a few men mostly unskilled stayed at their jobs.” Pegg and Ellam-Jones, colour manufacturers, carried on as usual – but then “union men are not employed”, revealed the Express. Clemson’s boot factory on Burton Road carried on working, as did F Longdon’s of Agard Street, a surgical bandage firm and Oliver Wilkins and Co, another colour manufacturer, Loades’ match factory failed to come out, despite the efforts of pickets.
However, many of those firms quoted as working normally were actually working under the considerable handicaps of shortages of labour and materials. Only violently anti-union firms like Ley’s, which evaded union recognition until the Second World War, seemed to function with relative ease, I F Panton, General Manager of Ley’s Malleable, was able to say that ‘up to now the works are still in full operation thanks to the loyalty and common sense of our workpeople”. A few men at Brown’s Foundry carried on working, producing domestic fire grates for the local authority housing scheme. The rest of the men were solidly out however, G Fletcher’s & Co carried on in much the same vein. At Moore, Eadie & Murcroft Goode Ltd, machine operators worked from 8 am to 1 pm because of supply problems, Haslam’s Union Foundry was open, but only a few men were at work. Only one department worked at Albert Green Ltd, although it worked overtime by starting the shift two hours early. Some work was carried out at Fletcher’s Malleable, but with considerably depleted staff. The men who stayed at work there had to go on short time because transport difficulties interfered with supplies.
Along with Bemrose’s, Rolls Royce, Midland Railway workshops and the bus and tramway workers, most skilled engineering workers in most companies came out in Derby and all of the large firms and most of the small ones were totally or partially stopped. Those that were not yet affected began to be in the second week of the strike, as more and more workers came out. In the second week, both John Smith’s brass foundry and Newton Brothers’ engineering works were at a standstill. Transport difficulties meanwhile considerably affected fruit and vegetable prices. The Food Controller in Derby warned on May 10th that potatoes would rise by 1d a pound weight and green vegetables by 1/2d to 1 d per pound. The previous week, potatoes had risen by 2/- a hundred-weight, almost 21/2d per pound.
With both passenger and commercial transport still solidly on strike, ‘volunteers’ and a few strike-breakers tried to run 30 LMS trains out of Derby on Tuesday 11th and 28 on Monday 10th. While the Trent bus services were totally stopped, the company lent a few buses to the Volunteer Service Committee. With the seats taken out, they were able to act as temporary ‘lorries’ to transport food. The sole commercial form of public transport by this stage in Derby was a lone taxi, which ran a bus service from Victory Road to The Spot, charging 4d per passenger. Every last bus had been stopped, even the private non-union firms tended to avoid Derby itself. The weekly traffic return of the Derby Corporation Tramways Committee for the main week of strike activity showed that only 97,617 passengers were carried compared to 383,958 in a comparable week the year previously. Almost £2,000 in receipts was lost. Those passengers carried that week were only transported very early on by trams manned by ‘volunteers’ and this soon ended. In the second week, almost no transport was moving at all. [73]
There were some key areas that did not strike, but only because of the TUC directive. Stokes, the WU full time organiser, was “surprised at the strike committee in Derby wanting to fetch our people out at Spondon (British Celanese) seeing that the committee at Long Eaton of which he was a member did not wish to draw our members out”. Locally, the WU resisted the enthusiasm evident elsewhere and insisted on the formalism of the TUC’s call for phased stoppages. Their Divisional Organiser, Jim Clarke, revealed that “he knew what the miners were … his father and brother (were) miners. Where the WU had been called out, Clarke was “proud of the way in which the union had played its part in the strike and the members had demonstrated that they (were) prepared to obey the EC”. The main thrust of the WU contribution had been considered by the local lay executive member, H A Hind, to be ‘nothing to be ashamed of’, for they had placed their “members and money in the hands of the TUC General Council”. [74]
By Tuesday 11th May, the mass of the strikers were more solid and more determined than at the outset. Calls to the constitution, to God, to country had not swayed them. On the contrary, strikers became more political and more militant in their outlook. The Government’s strategy of politicising the dispute could have backfired. Sensing this, greater efforts were made on the propaganda front. British Gazette distribution figures were doubled in Derby, when extra copies were dispatched to the town on Tuesday. Enough supplies were received to send extras to the surrounding towns and villages.
In line with this political offensive, the local Tories decided to try to take over the Derby Co-operative Society, at its quarterly meeting on Monday 10th May. An unparalleled interest in the meeting was shown, so many members turned up that over a thousand were unable to get into the already packed Co-op Hall. Queues had begun over one and a half hours before the meeting and, by 7 o’clock, these stretched along Exchange Street, East Street and the Morledge to the Palais de Dance. Despite the fact that some of the candidates for election to the ruling body of the DCS were outside in the queue, the meeting went ahead. The overwhelming mood of the membership of the society was clear, when the Tory inspired motion proposing disaffiliation from the Labour Party was easily and devastatingly defeated, even without the thousand votes outside. Mrs E A Leese moved the resolution, which was later detailed in the June issue of the DSC Record: “That in the opinion of this meeting the Derby Cooperative Provident Society should not be affiliated to the Socialist or Labour Party.” Out of the vast attendance a mere six votes were cast for it. The debate was lively though! One member forcibly argued that “the Conservatives and Fascists were trying to smash (the) movement in this country by diplomacy as they did in Italy by force”. Not one of the Conservative nominees to the various positions up for election succeeded, while a radical Political Council emerged composed of Messrs Wheeldon, Haywood, Wilkinson, Appleby, Kelly, Larrad and Graham. [75]
Amidst all this ferment of ideas and activity, the Volunteer Services Committee tried to achieve some semblance of normality, largely in vain. However, work on the postal services was supposedly performed so effectively by the ‘volunteers’ that they claimed that the service had improved to three deliveries a day by the second week. Normal collections were being made, but transport difficulties caused problems in delivering on time. Delays in transit were “already much reduced” and “likely to become less as the days go on”, it was claimed. Some LMS trains ran on the Wednesday morning from Derby station, but these were still manned by ‘volunteers’-of whom, it was reported, “there are plenty”. [76] Railway workers’ wives picketed the Friargate Gate goods yards. Some women even ran in to physically pull out any drivers contemplating working. [77] The problem of maintaining supplies to the towns was enormous. Something like 1,200 tons of foodstuffs a week entered Derby in normal times, perhaps 150 to 200 lorry loads a day according to the Emergency Transport Office in Derby. There seems to have been some ‘misunderstanding’ on the part of the strike committee ‘regarding the TUC decisions with road transport”. [78] Perhaps this was the reason that on Monday 11th eight out of nine Co-op bread van deliverymen came out on strike. The strike committee refused permission to the Society to deliver to their retail shops and tried to get it to ‘withdraw the vegetable drays from the streets”. [79] Towards the end of the General Strike, there was a “fair supply of coke in the town” but the coal shortage was being acutely felt. The Coal Emergency Committee asked that some of the stock of 300 tons of coal held by the Co-op in Derby be released to them, but the board of directors refused, contrary to the Derby Daily Express report of 14th May that they had done so. Co-op coalmen returned after the strike and the coal was then only released to DCS members and only at the price prevailing before the mines had stopped. [80]
In advance of an expected settlement of the dispute, the Directors of Stanton ironworks opened their establishment on 10th May in order that arrangements could be made to re-open as quickly as possible. For it took days to prepare the giant furnaces for production. Only a tiny minority took the opportunity to turn up for work on the morning of the 12th. The bulk of the workers awaited official instructions, which everyone expected to come imminently in view of the comments of Thomas and the meetings involving the TUC, the Cabinet and the miners, A general sense that the strike was all but over was strong. Only the terms were at issue. The strikers at large wanted only two things, that the miners not be let down and there be no victimisation of strikers. Most employers were still taking a strong line on the question of disciplining their own strikers, The LNER flatly contradicted the idea that there would be immunity for strikers from victimisation, which Thomas suggested had been agreed. On Monday, the company announced that ‘they wished it to be understood that at the conclusion of the strike they will give preference of employment to those of their staff who have remained at work or who offer themselves for re-employment without delay”. [81]
Shrewdly, the Derby Daily Express observed in its editorial on the 11th, “seemingly little or nothing is being done to approach the problem of the mining industry”. The TUC leadership seized upon the intervention into the dispute of Sir Herbert Samuel, the Liberal chair of the 1925 Royal Commission, who produced a compromise memorandum as a basis for settling the dispute. It is certain that Baldwin was more than in touch with Samuel and that their thinking was not so far apart. Thomas, still with Liberal connections, arranged a General Council meeting at the home of his friend, the South African multi-millionaire, Sir Abe Bailey, and it was here that the TUC accepted the Samuel Memorandum as a basis for negotiating a settlement, But there were the miners to consider.
Only at 8 pm that evening was the full MFGB executive eventually called into the General Council to hear that it had accepted the Memorandum, There had been no consultation with the miners, but they were led to believe that the Government had also accepted it as a basis for negotiations. The implication was that the Government saw the whole affair in the same way as the TUC. There were however no firm guarantees, but this weakness was not pointed out by Thomas. A J Cook pressed Pugh, the TUC chair, for details of the guarantees, but got no real answers. J H Thomas then revealed the snobbery for which he was justly famous, saying quite seriously to Cook, the Marxist: “You may well not trust my word, but will you not accept the word of a British gentleman (Samuel) who has been Governor of Palestine?” The MFGB and the Labour Party executives then met in joint session to hear the same message from Bevin and MacDonald. The miners left the TUC at a little after midnight, while the General Council stayed until 1.30 am. The cabinet was in session the whole time, but would not receive the General Council until the following morning.
The Derby Daily Express headline for that following day was dramatic: “GENERAL STRIKE TERMINATING TODAY – OFFICIAL”. Gleefully, the paper declared that it had received the news less than a minute after it was announced at Downing Street. A special edition “speedily spread the glad tidings all over Derby and district”. The local paper might well have been elated but trade unionists were simply stunned. At Long Eaton, the TUC’s telegram calling the strike off was thought at first to be a forgery. It had been passed on by the local police station. [82] Everywhere, the mood was one of puzzlement or hostility to the TUC. Some thought at this stage that there must have been a victory, but could not understand the nature of this. A dance for the strikers was already arranged at Derby’s Central Hall that evening, a trade union membership card would guarantee admission. How much gaiety was there that night, after the bewildering news? The most puzzling aspect was that no secure terms had been secured and yet the strike was gaining strength every day. The Derby strike committee reported that the position on May 12th was that “there were no signs of weakening. On the other hand more workers were coming out and joining the strike.” At Ilkeston, the central strike committee reported, “no weakening whatsoever” and that the position was ‘stronger than ever … spirit shown here splendid”. Ripley reported much the same mood and commented that “everybody (was) furious when (the) settlement was known”. It was commonly accepted, as the Chesterfield No.1 NUR branch secretary C S Hollis put it, that if the TUC leadership “had stuck it out we should have eventually won”. [83]
In the memories of strikers, Jimmy Thomas was to be allocated the prime responsibility for what was not a defeat, but a surrender. Years later, one old Derbyshire miner still spoke of “Judas H Thomas who sold we miners for thirty bits of silver”. While, in the immediate period after the strike, others posed the humorous pun: “Question – why do the miners drink beer? Answer. Because the TUC is weak!” The joke may be thin, but the bitterness was most certainly not. A trades unionist, uncertain of himself and his colleagues in struggle, would now often be nick-named ‘Jimmy Thomas’ for his weakness. [84] For Thomas was seen by all, eventually, not to have ever had his heart in the strike. He had said so publicly, right from the beginning, that he disliked the very concept of general strikes and feared the consequences of the constitutional issues raised by them. What is less forgivable is that he made this very clear to the government that this was so and they played it for all it was worth. While it would be wrong to assign all of the responsibility for betrayal to Thomas, it is clear that he had a decisive role in those fateful events that left the miners standing alone. But more important was the generally accepted analysis motivating the trade union leaderships represented on the General Council. In particular, the acceptance of the main reformist ideas of neutrality of the state, gradualism and fear of class struggle. Thomas merely drew attention to himself by virtue of his particularly snobbish outlook, compounded by a distinct relish for the good life. One Labour leader, Phillip Snowden, no mean slouch himself when it came to the delights of officialdom and rank, calculated that Thomas spent “three whole weeks each year attending Labour conferences and 150 days attending lunches and dinners of various societies … at these he consumes nine gallons of champagne and that his laundry bill for starched shirts” amounted to £18 a year. [85]
The Samuel Memorandum proved to be less than useless and Thomas and his cronies knew it. Apart from a hint that a temporary subsidy might be introduced pending negotiations, there was not a single concession to the miners. Yet the wages cuts sought by the owners were to be accepted, if the Memorandum was to be followed. The British Worker spoke of assurances from the Government and suggested that a victory had been won, The miners’ view was simply ignored, while it was implied that meaningful negotiations were now underway. To the sheer bewilderment of ordinary trades unionists, the BBC and the press screamed that it was totally the opposite situation. By the time the settlement, or lack of it, was clear on Friday, it also emerged that a series of unpalatable reverses were to be inflicted upon the miners with the connivance of the TUC. Not only were there to be wages cuts, but also the minimum national wage was to be abolished, collective bargaining was to be replaced by compulsory arbitration, the 7-hour day was to end and district settlements were to come in. The miners had no option but to reject this, deciding therefore to stay on strike alone for as long as it took to win. It also now became clear that Baldwin – even before the rejection of the Memorandum by the miners – was saying that the Government could not force employers to take strikers back without victimisation, No wonder, for it was an ideal opportunity for every company and enterprise to weed out militant leaders, to cut wages and break agreements. Intimidation of returning strikers became the order of the day, even the 19th century ‘document’ tactic resurfaced. Both the railway clerks and the Trent bus workers saw such an attack in Derby, along with many others, The Loco Works went back in a spirit of great enthusiasm en bloc, with “200 or 300 … assembling at the top of Babington Lane and marching back”. However, they also went back to a three-day week.
Many manufacturing firms returned to some degree of normality fairly soon. By Thursday morning in Chesterfield, Markham’s engineering works were back, along with the tube works and Plowright’s. 54 moulders who had struck at Bryan Donkin’s returned and Whittington’s jam factory was back to normal, [86] But other workers faced open challenges from their employers, Railwaymen gathered in Chesterfield, Derby, llkeston and elsewhere to hear the cessation telegram read out. In Brimington, a bell was rung in the streets on Wednesday evening to call a railwaymen’s’ meeting at the local school. Like some Derby workers, the Chesterfield NUR men went back en bloc, lining up outside their headquarters for a march to the station. But it was to be to no avail, for the railway companies intended to pick and choose who would work and who would not. Ilkeston railway workers faced the same prospect. After they met on Wednesday to hear the reading of the telegram, some returned that night to discover the same attitude as elsewhere. The railway companies’ position was formally put by a notice posted on the walls of railway buildings in Derby: [87]
Members of the staff who have absented themselves from duty without giving the notice prescribed by the terms of their service are notified that unless by 12 noon on Friday May 14th they offer themselves for re-employment, steps will be taken to fill their places.
H G Burgess
General Manager
Reassured by the false idea that Baldwin had made a guarantee of no victimisation, the 600 RCA members who had struck in Derby presented themselves for work on Thursday 13th as instructed by the TUC. Yet none of them were taken on. It could not be clearer that the company intended to discriminate against strikers, especially union activists. There could only be one answer to such a stance, all of the workers walked straight out again demanding no victimisation,
The Derby strike committee covering the three rail unions sat for several hours at the Unity Hall on Friday 14th. Outside, a notice was posted to the effect that acceptance of the company’s terms for a return to work would be disastrous, Only a last-minute settlement at national level averted further difficulties on the railways. However, the price for re-instatement was absolute humiliation, in that the unions had to concede that ‘in calling the strike they committed a wrongful act and agree that the companies do not by re-instatement surrender their legal rights to claim damages … from strikers and others responsible”. [88] Somewhat cynically, the Midland Railway general manager sent a message to all employees asking them to “pull together” in late May. [89] By late July, some 57 clerks were still not reinstated in Derby and over 200 were on short time. The position locally seemed to Alexander Walkden, the RCA general secretary, to be a particularly slow re-instatement. Union benefits were being paid to those out of work, as long as the £1 levy called for by the RCA executive continued to be met. [90]

Immediately after the end of the strike, the Ilkeston Pioneer reported the sighting of the “first Trent bus for over a week in Ilkeston … along the Lord Haddon Rd on Wednesday evening”, almost as if it were rescuing the town from isolation back into civilisation. But it was not to be that easy. Throughout Trent Motor Traction, large numbers of returning strikers were cleared out of the garages by police because they refused to accept the company’s return to work conditions. Only a very few men were prepared to take services out on Friday. The company issued a notice saying that no negotiations would take place with the union, which was party to the “present illegal combination against the safety and welfare of the state”. The firm deemed all strikers to have terminated their employment and declared that only those who accepted their employer’s terms would be re-instated. However, the terms were lengthy, complex and harsh. Clause 10 in particular hit at the union very hard. The condition was that “any changes in rates of pay or conditions of service shall in future be negotiated with the employees attached to each garage”. This effectively cut the union out of collective bargaining, by dealing directly with employees. Moreover, the firm was aiming for the elimination of company-wide wages and conditions, by dealing with each depot in isolation. The whole strategy was something that could not possibly be accepted. It was tantamount to de-recognition of an effective union.
F W Haslam, the TGWU branch secretary, had spoken to a mass meeting of the men on the Thursday night. He urged support for the union by reporting to work the next day, but only unconditionally and on the previous terms. “I said good-bye to your General Manager (Mr Campbell Taylor) on clause 10.” Haslam told his members that “if he wants to see me again he will have to send for me”. The branch secretary had become so frustrated by the contemptuous attitude of the management that he thought himself now the “dead set enemy of the Trent company. . .but I am not going to coerce you”, he told his members. “You are the union, not l.” Given such a choice, the vast majority of the bus workers fell down on the side of Haslam and their union. Both Nottingham and Derby Corporation Tramways and Midland Red had returned to work on more favourable terms than the Trent management required. Ilkeston Tramways were still off the road, while the workers held meetings on back to work conditions on Thursday morning. These problems were quickly resolved to their satisfaction. Sadly, such a solution was not to hand for the Trent bus workers.
Campbell Taylor refused to meet with official union representatives and held a meeting with unofficial representatives of Nottingham and Derby garages. On the basis that a meeting of the men was due to consider a return to work, given reasonable terms, the management had agreed to consider a negotiated settlement of the conditions. Clearly, the spirit of the bus workers in their employ was stronger than the employer had believed would be the case. The management effectively climbed down, claiming that “the wording of some of these conditions did not make the views of management quite clear to the men”. It was now claimed that clause 10 did not intend to repudiate recognition of the union. However, the wording of clause 10 was unambiguous and had been written by Campbell Taylor himself. Haslam had spent a long time with management, probing their intentions, about which there was no doubt in his mind. It seems very likely that the company had retreated from what had initially been a very hard anti-union position. The meeting between Campbell Taylor and the rank-and-file representatives was taking place while a mass meeting of the Derby men was being addressed by Monk, a TGWU official, at the Temperance Hall. Monk told the assembly that 150 Nottingham men were on their way to Derby to hold a demonstration. However, the news of the company’s retreat came through and preparations were made by Trent to transport employees from Nottingham, Loughborough, Ilkeston and Alfreton to Derby for a “peace meeting” addressed by Campbell Taylor. In the end, given alteration of clause 10 and by guaranteeing existing rates of pay until January 1st 1927, when the next pay round would be negotiated with the union, the men returned to normal working with their organisation and pride intact.
The General Strike was over, there were those who had been eager to get out of the battle and were most reluctant to condemn the TUC. Stokes, at the Derby WU District Committee, noted that “still the Miners (were) out. But no blame should be put on the General Council until they had made their statement.” Hind hoped that “no-one would criticise the General Council … he did not think that the strike had been a failure … he had made 16 members in his branch”. [91] Whilst this latter comment might be viewed as being a little trite in the circumstances, it was the case that the immediate effect of the end of the strike was not by any means one of total disillusionment. Unorganised workers were greatly impressed by the solidarity and strength of trades unionists. Hind’s experience was not an isolated one, the Rowsley NUR branch reported substantial blocks of recruits. For that small branch, 27 new members was an important development. In the immediate wake of the strike, trades unionism had arguably been strengthened. [92]
The longer-term consequences were mostly negative, as the miners faced a slow defeat and the State extracted revenge. The Derbyshire Times issued twelve writs against the Chesterfield strike committee. Vin Williams, the editor of the strike bulletin, was charged with committing an act calculated to cause ‘mutiny, sedition or dissatisfaction” for the report on the alleged episode in Hyde Park in the third issue of May 10th. Anne Astwood later recalled Vin Williams’, arrest: “that night, while the meeting’s in progress I can see three policemen, an inspector and two constables coming through t’grounds”. She rapidly told Dennis Webster (later the Labour Party secretary in the town) to hide the strike bulletins in the dustbin. While, as she put it, “I put the minute book in my bosom”. The next day, Williams was brought before the Chesterfield court, where the Deputy Town Clerk, S Walker, claimed that he ‘held strong communist views” and had come to the area with the ‘avowed intention of creating strike disturbances in what had hitherto been a peaceful area”.
A F Day, a council employee, had bought a copy of the strike bulletin and passed it over to Colonel Little, the military intelligence officer for the area. Williams pleaded that he had been told the story (now clearly just a rumour, but which had originally seemed plausible) by an MP and had published it in good faith. Colonel Little denied any truth in the story at all. But there had been large numbers of troops at Hyde Park and it may well have been the case that some Welsh contingents expressed their displeasure at the possibility of being used in the dispute against their compatriots. Perhaps there had been no open or organised mutiny and more significance was attached to the rumour than was deserved. The response of the State was unnecessarily harsh, since there had been no military consequences. Beyond a display of parading troops through London, they were not utilised at all. The court predictably found against Williams and he was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour with a £5 fine. The costs of the defence – Sir Stafford Cripps represented him – were taken up by the DMA. After Williams came out of jail, on July 1st, he was greeted by enthusiastic applause at a meeting of Eckington miners. [93]
There were many other victims of the judicial offensive, mostly in mining districts. Only a week after Williams was sentenced, two miners, Joseph Fretwell of Pinxton and Arthur Wilkinson of South Normanton were bound over for six months at Alfreton for possessing copies of the Derbyshire Chronicle, On 7th May, a miner had put a tree in the path of a bus at Kimberly. For this, his punishment was three months’ hard labour. Two men were sentenced to a month’s hard labour for an incident on May 10th, involving a lorry on its way to Robinson’s of Chesterfield, when the windscreen had been smashed. In another incident, six people were brought before the courts for blockading the road to Underwood’s buses. At Ripley on May 11th, four miners stoned a strikebreaking bus, injuring two passengers, for which they received two months imprisonment. [94] In Derby there were no arrests made. Two prosecutions were taken out against employees of the LMS Railway Company by the firm, but these failed at the local court. [95] Most of these offences were trivial, yet they were treated excessively seriously. More damage to life and limb was often created by the antics of ‘volunteer’ drivers of trains, lorries and buses, but a benevolent blind-eye was turned here. This intimidation of strikers and miners must surely have been intentional. Not only had maximum revenge to be extracted to prevent such an occurrence again, but solidarity with the miners had to be deterred, While the miners themselves needed to be broken before final victory could be claimed by Baldwin and his Government. Trades unionists awaited the TUC’s review of the strike, many actually believing that there might be another call to action. The strike committee in Derby was still in existence several weeks after the end of the strike, almost as if in touching belief that the miners would not be let down.
3     From “Soakie to a Gold-Mounted Fountain Pen” – the miners battle on for seven months
The miners stayed out until nearly the end of the year, while the emphasis of trade union activity moved from supportive strike action to fund-raising, to avoid starvation amongst the miners and their families. For a short while, the left wing of the labour and trade union movement tried to stimulate concrete solidarity action once more, by halting the movement of coal. The Communist Party called on the ILP to join them in a campaign along these lines. However, the leadership of the ILP, some of whom had been intimately involved in the TUC-Labour Party heading off of the General Strike, dithered. Some local ILP branches did act swiftly. A joint campaign on the embargo of coal was agreed on by the ILP and Communist Party in Derby. [96] With most miners still out solidly, the country had to rely on stocks of coal to meet its energy needs. The small amounts of coal being mined by strike breakers was totally insufficient to supply the country’s needs and it was still very difficult to import coal into the country through the docks. Lay-offs due to the coal shortages began; by June 19th, seven thousand employees of the Stanton Ironworks were put out of work. [97] Had the TUC and most unions been won to support the embargo, it might have given greater strength to the miners. While the ILP did initially vaguely support the concept of an embargo on coal, it grew increasingly quiet over the issue. The MFGB’s call for a widening of the embargo was hardly mentioned in the ILP’s paper. By the next month, the ILP had formally dropped the strategy in favour of an unrealistic call for a general election, which was supposed to solve all of the miners’ problems by the election of a Labour Government.
The coal owners had attempted to get the Derbyshire men back to work once the General Strike had been called off The DMA had been locked out for sympathy action with other coalfields. In common with all other areas, the DMA remained quite solid. A special DMA area council felt that the General Strike had been called off before an honourable settlement had been reached. Although the union paid 10/- a week strike pay (5/- for juniors), this was less than one-fifth normal income. As the struggle continued, hardship of a desperate nature became the order of the day for miners, their families and their communities. One old miner later recalled that many in Derbyshire lived on a staple diet of ‘soakie”, a basin of tea and bread with “the top of an egg if we were lucky”. The only variation might be “bread and lard with sugar on”. [98] Another recalled that ‘bread and butter or bread and jam” was the mainstay of the daily diet of many families, but it was usually home-made bread and home-made jam. People also lived on vegetables out of their gardens, and by “pinching turnips and swedes out of the fields”. Whilst yet another recalled that they lived “from hand-to-mouth on rabbits we could catch, turnips from fields and plants from hedgerows. We’d pick blackberries, nettles, nuts and mushrooms and dig up pig nuts. I would fetch dripping from the kitchens at Locko Hall. It tasted marvellous.” [99]
Fuel was very scarce, even in the coalfields. There was no money to buy coal and a great deal of scavenging on the pit tips went on. One miner, then a young lad at Ripley, remembered ‘sliding down these tips on a shovel, bringing home the bags of pickings on carts made from pram wheels and old boards”, Another recalled that they used “to go (to the tips) from about 10.30 pm until about 4am without the cops to drive us away”. This night shift subterfuge was often necessary, for the police tried hard to prevent illegal picking of what was in fact scrap mineral and coal. But their efforts were mostly in vain. Even outcropping, or digging for coal near the surface, took place in the Kennings Park area. Eleven men were fined at Ilkeston for sinking coal shafts on Corporation property.
Naturally, many miners now found themselves with a great deal of spare time on their hands and with no money to enjoy it. After the daily battle to acquire food and fuel, there were opportunities for self-made amusements, One participant recalled that the young miners ‘ranged about for weeks. We helped pass the time by playing brag for matches in the stables of the New Inn – now the Eagle Tavern – in Ripley Road, Heage.” [100] All sorts of adventurous and clever ideas for fund-raising were tried out, jazz bands, football and cricket matches, sports galas. Most families had to pawn or sell all of their valuables, even wedding rings. Pawnshops especially did a brisk trade at 2d per week. Communal soup kitchens were set up everywhere. Some feeding centres managed to fare quiet well in ‘cadging’ food, At Somercotes, there were four centres, which fed up to 1,200 children with two meals a day. The figures for meals given at the Gladstone Street Feeding Centre, an official relief centre for underprivileged children in Ilkeston, show a peak being reached that summer in the number of meals provided.
          Month                                 Meals
          May                                    30,512
          June                                   25,914
          July/August                     36,396
Elsewhere in the town, butchers like Mrs Bentley of Cotmanhay Road, shopkeepers of all kinds, publicans at the Durham Ox and the Ancient Druids contributed meat and vegetables for broth making. Children would queue up for jug-fulls of broth and stale bread, White’s chip shop gave away scraps at the end of each opening session.
The Co-ops continued the assistance that they had earlier given in the General Strike throughout the long months of the lockout. Employees of lkeston Co-op donated one shilling in the pound from their wages to the miners’ relief fund, providing vouchers for Co-op goods. Credit was extended to striking miners and dividend paid out early. A special meeting of two hundred Derby Co-op members on July 5th endorsed “the action of the Directors in subscribing £1,000 to the Co-operative Union Relief Fund for Co-operative societies and co-operators in mining areas”, Big food manufacturers with benevolent leanings, such as Cadbury’s and Fry’s, were asked for food, There were two marches to the Belper workhouse to try to force the Guardians to accept responsibility for the children. Three busloads of children went ‘to stay and made them feed us”. [101] With all this going on, the coal owners must have thought that it would be relatively easy to get the men to return to work. Colliery officials bought men drinks in the local pubs in order that they might be softened up, but all that seemed to happen was that the men gladly supped the ale before refusing to go back. [102] Such was the vindictiveness of the Tory Government that Baldwin wrote to the US authorities, as a deputation from the MFGB was about to set out for America on a fund-raising tour. His message was that there was no dire need in the coalfields, that there was good grounds for thinking that the children were better fed as a result of the communal kitchens than before the dispute! The miners were isolated and beginning to starve. The Government introduced a Bill in Parliament in June that would permit the lengthening of the working day to an underground average of 8 hours 30 minutes, thus suspending the 7-hour day won in 1919. While the TUC claimed to oppose the Bill, little or nothing was done about it by the trade union movement. Still the miners would not give in. Only a very few men returned to work. Some did so at Staveley’s Markham No 2 colliery, despite the hostility towards them by their colleagues and their community. The weekend after this minor return, five thousand strikers demonstrated in the village, with their lodge banners flying and a brass band at the head of the march, This display of defiance stiffened the resolve of many who might have weakened. [103]
Wherever there were signs of some miners returning, the community responded. At Ripley, the words “scab” were chalked on the appropriate doors and one street had the word “Scab Row” painted over the street sign because of the reputation it acquired through some of its occupants’ activities. One local woman, Elsie Gadsby, then a young girl, remembers how the women responded when the few strike breakers passed by on their way to work, ‘You should have heard the amazons: ‘Get back home, you dirty blacklegs!’ Strike’lI last for ever if it’s left to you dirty creeps!’ Then they’d start (singing) The Red Flag’ again. The men would leave off their games to shout encouragement to the women. I wouldn’t have been in those blacklegs’ shoes for all the coal left in the pits. And these men were shunned for a long time after the strike was over. Even their children were stamped with the dreaded “blackleg’s kids”. I was glad I wasn’t one of them.” [104]
After only ten weeks the DMA’s funds were all but exhausted and from mid-July only charity and scavenging kept the miners and their families alive. In Chesterfield, the Guardians had five thousand cases of distress to deal with and had become so pressed in coping with the situation that men fainted with hunger, as they stood for hours on end in the endless queues. The offers of a return to work must have seemed increasingly tempting to some, in July, the DMA council voted two to one to ask the MFGB to consider a ballot on the question of the working day. Some employers now tried to reopen their pits at terms even less favourable than at the outset of the dispute. Notices were posted to that effect at Staveley, Shipley, Ilkeston, Heanor and elsewhere. But most men stood firm, although by the end of July some 250 were back at Markham No 2, 100 at Oxcroft and 130 at other pits. By mid-August there were around 1,800 in all who had returned.
The employers in some areas were very conscious that a chance existed of being able to break the union. The Bolsover Colliery Company concluded an agreement with the British Workers League, which saw itself as an ‘anti-Bolshevik’ union. Although, this was largely to no affect, Some men did start back there and owners of some Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire pits did try to re-open them on the basis of the BWL agreement, but it came too little. Despite suggestions that back-door deals were being contemplated by DMA officials, the union remained fairly solid. At the end of August, A J Cook toured Derbyshire in an attempt to stop the drift back to work.                 Pic A J Cook
A great crowd of over 4,000 gave him an emotional reception at Chesterfield on the 24th. After singing the Red Flag, they listened to Cook for two hours as he told them that “Derbyshire had a glorious name”. He was carried from the hall over the shoulders of the men, in an outburst of emotion, [105] Cook also visited South Derbyshire, when he spoke to several thousand miners and supporters in Swadlincote, He became 50 exhausted by the tour of the county that at Bolsover the enthusiastic crowd had to be kept away from him while he walked to the car. Cook’s oratory and sense of purpose won him the passionate loyalty of the ordinary miner in a way that few leaders of the British working class have been able to lay claim to. His complete identification with the miners caused him to insist on forgoing his union salary during the long months of the lock-out, Even when offered a hotel while on a speaking engagement in Derby he would not accept it, preferring “a lodging house (in Park Street) at 5 shillings a night”. [106] The Derbyshire Times thought his personal intervention in the county ensured that “many men were kept from … going to work”. [107]
During Cook’s visit to the county, much disorder was caused by the provocative announcement of the Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks that any men wishing to return to work would receive police protection. The emergency regulations continued to be used against the miners and their supporters, Henry Webb, a Communist Party organiser, was prosecuted at Chesterfield for a speech made at Shirebrook, C E Mason of Bakewell was charged with a speech calculated to cause disaffection. Pickets tried to prevent men from returning to work and the authorities had no hesitation in using their powers against them. John Mosley, Ellen Hill and Thomas Hill were all charged in Derbyshire with intimidating one William Crich with the aim of getting him to stop work. Each were fined the impossible sum of £5 with costs, A measure of the sharpness of the situation is provided by the fact that two strike breakers and their bicycles were thrown into the Erewash canal by striking miners at the end of August. [108]
Police from Manchester and elsewhere were sent in huge numbers to reinforce the local constabulary. In Bolsover, the police were billeted at Bainbridge Hall, the home of the Managing Director of the local coal company. The Labour Mayor of Chesterfield swore in special constables at Bolsover, whose job was to ensure that the little coal that was available still went out. Joynson-Hicks claimed that prosecutions were at their greatest in the Midlands counties. As men returned to work, the numbers of prosecutions in Derbyshire soared from four in August to 131 in September. [109] Sentences became more severe. John Davis, a Welsh miners’ leader, was prosecuted for a speech and sentenced to two months jail at Chesterfield. A spate of similar prosecutions took place in Clay Cross and Alfreton. Tommy James, a Rotherham Communist, got three months hard labour for breach of the peace after a speech in Chesterfield. The chairman of the bench was Sir Ernest Shentall, a local coal owner who “had a habit of passing harsh sentences on communists”. [110] A woman was fined £2 for chalking on the road: “don’t be a scab!”, near Holmewood Colliery. Four miners were fined £5 for hostility to a strikebreaker, an action that might lead to the “restriction of the supply of fuel”. [111]
This constant legal sniping was impossible to counter and the arrogance of the police, now in a position of unrivalled strength, went to extraordinary lengths. DMA notices were removed by police at Grassmoor on the grounds that they were inaccurate! The true role of the State was starkly revealed as all pretence at impartiality was dropped. Police began to knock men up in the morning to tell them it was time to start work. Strikers standing on street corners were asked why they were not at work, as if it were a criminal offence. It seemed almost as if that was the case. [112] The pressure to return to work was intense, By the end of September over 10,000 men had gone back in Derbyshire, perhaps a fifth of the total workforce, Numbers of free meals claimed by children at Ilkeston’s Gladstone Street Feeding Centre dropped from almost 26,000 in July to 11,426 in September and to 6,389 in October, a dramatic example of the demise of the resistance. Other areas were perhaps more solid, but generally it was a difficult time for the MFGB. The government proposed a settlement on the basis of district agreements, thus demolishing the very concept of a national minimum rate and unity of all Britain’s miners, something cherished by them as an ambition for generations,
A flood of men returning in Nottinghamshire encouraged the view that these proposals should be accepted, although the line of the MFGB was still to resist such suggestions, The Nottinghamshire Miners Association’s funds were exhausted and little assistance could be given by other areas, Derbyshire had given £10,000 in May to the NMA, but was itself now in dire straits. Despite this, the TUC declined to organise a penny a head levy on all trades unionists to help the MFGB and once again concentrated its efforts on settling the dispute over the heads of the miners, by trying to resolve the contradiction that district negotiations could not allow for national negotiations, The end was very near for the miners in the long battle. Beaten by the slow process of starvation and isolated from all but a few friends within the labour movement, the miners voted at a special MFGB conference only very narrowly to accept the Government’s terms. Yet this position was reversed subsequently in a national ballot by ratio of five to three, but another national delegate conference endorsed the settlement, which allowed for local bargaining.
Attempts were made to reach a settlement on these lines in Derbyshire and most felt optimistic that reasonable terms could be won, After all, the DMA had voted in the national ballot by 28,300 to 2,650 to carry on the fight. Even the hard-line Bolsover Company had intimated that they would agree to a ‘no-victimisation’ clause, in a mutually agreed settlement that catered for district negotiations. [113] But, in the event, the terms offered by the coal owners were totally unacceptable, Even though the NMA was collapsing, the DMA continued the struggle. The collapse of the NMA was all but total and was partly due to the influence of one of their leaders – George Spencer – who subsequently was expelled for his activities by the Federation. A Lib­-Laber of the old school, Spencer had long been at odds with the prevailing mood of the miners, He had been a determined supporter of Hancock, the NMA leader and MP for Mid-Derbyshire, in his opposition to MFGB affiliation to the Labour Party, a decade and a half ago. In the intervening period he had not essentially changed his political outlook.
Cook came back to Derbyshire in an attempt to stop the rot spreading across the two counties, Spencer’s name, he declared, stank “in the nostrils of honest men”, Cook visited every mining village in Derbyshire, speaking night and day. On one particular day he put in 15 hours of solid talking. Herbert Smith, the MFGB national president spoke in Chesterfield: “Derbyshire helped build this Federation up, and I am not going to let you pull it down.” [114] The miners still resisted defeat, as the coal shortages bit harder and winter approached, Derby’s chief executive, G Trevelyan Lee, issued instructions on November 2nd that no coal or coke over 28Ibs could be supplied for domestic use unless a permit had been obtained from the Fuel Officer at St Werburgh’s Church School in Curzon Street. [115] There were further arrests and harassment, Police officers boldly sat in at DMA branch meetings. The Communist MP, Shapurji Saklatvala was told by Alfreton police that all public meetings were banned. Tom Mullins and Vin Williams were prevented from speaking at Clowne and Ripley respectively. James Maxton and Davie Kirkwood, ILP MPs from the ‘Red Clyde’, were stopped from speaking at Staveley and Eckington, At Kirkwood’s court hearing, five MPs appeared and the Red Flag was sung by a crowded courtroom. The police were kept back by the crowd at Eckington to allow farewell speeches. [116]
At the end of November, the Nottinghamshire coal owners signed a five-year agreement with Spencer. Ramsay MacDonald sent him congratulations on the signing of a district settlement. But, to achieve this, he had to force a breakaway from the NMA and the MFGB. Thirty-nine delegates founded the Nottinghamshire and District Miners Industrial Union, the Spencerite breakaway, (NDMIU). It was effectively a ‘company union’ and its principal stated policy was to oppose political and strike action by unions. Spencer was an existing MP for Broxtowe and his subsequent expulsion from the Labour Party enabled him to sit in comfort on the Liberal benches. For the leader of a supposedly non-political union, it was an act of stunning hypocrisy. Generally recognised in the Nottinghamshire coalfield the NDMIU organised to some extent in Derbyshire. The Bolsover and Creswell owners immediately recognised the NDMIU. A Spencerite split was avoided in Derbyshire, but at a price. An agreement that followed exactly the Nottinghamshire formula was presented by the coal owners. Frank Hall signed the document for the DMA, two days after the NDMIU agreement was concluded. He later recalled that the conversation between the employers and the union side was very pleasant and he “was presented with a gold-mounted fountain pen by Mr H E Mitton”, the owners’ chief negotiator. [117] The DMA officials instructed their members to return to work immediately. It was all over.
The November 29th agreement, which ended the dispute in Derbyshire, lowered wages, increased hours and introduced a sliding scale principle in which a miner’s standard of living could very quickly be dropped. Wages were to be fixed not to the price of coal, or as a result of collective bargaining, but by a complex financial formula. A District Wages Board was to be set up with representatives of the union and the owners, The wages structure, which was to be its property, would be based on audits from the owners’ books. The relative profitability would alter wages at any one time in a percentage basis over a standard rate. There was an agreed formula which related costs, which obviously diminished profits, to the agreed minimum wages rates, This district minimum was to be 38% above basic rates, Day workers would get 8/9d a shift, so long as this did not mean more than 6d a shift subsidy. Hours of work were increased by thirty minutes a shift, while piecework percentages were cut from 14.17% to 7%. If the coal owners’ profitability was ever less than the agreed costs formula, then any deficit would be carried forward until it was recovered within a three month ‘ascertainment’ period. Where a surplus existed, it would be balanced against deficits and 85% of the residue would fund the wages structure.
The accounting principles of the ascertainment procedure were detailed at length. The eight miners’ leaders who signed the agreement (including Hall, Hicken and John Spencer) were determined to avoid any manipulation by the owners of the financial figures, if they had to accept the notion of relating wages to profitability on a sliding scale. The standard, or ‘basis’ rate, incorporated scale-downs to enable the ascertainment concept to be phased in without hurting more than absolutely necessary. Wages paid would actually relate to the ascertainment period finishing two months before, so there would be a breathing space and some notice of what was to come. The percentage phase down was: December – 90%; January/February – 80%; March/May 70%; June/August – 60%, The agreement was to last for five years, until December 1931, and of course only covered the northern coalfield in the county – a separate agreement covered the southern end, There were some protective measures negotiated in the agreement, but mostly the owners had got what they wanted.
4 “The miners could have won a wage reduction without Thomas’ help”
The entire struggle had ruined the miners’ funds. By the end of 1926 the DMA had only £43,461 in reserve, having entered the year with £250,054; only eight years before it had double those reserves. The titanic battles of the 1 920s drained the union’s vigour. [118] Short of £2 million had been raised by trades unionists for the MFGB Relief Fund. A gift of £1,161,459 was made by Soviet trades unionists and this lead to allegations that the dispute had been financed by ‘Moscow Gold’. [119] In fact, even such a generous donation fell far short of what was actually needed. From May to December some 0.75 million miners, together with their wives and families – maybe as many as 3.5 million people – had suffered great privation. Clearly the funds raised did not stretch far at all.
The practical effort in raising the funds was none the less a magnificent response, even if it often salved the consciences of those who knew that the miners needed supportive action of a more decisive kind before they needed soup and bread. But the enormous sums raised were in themselves evidence of the support the miners had in working class communities. Derby Labour Party’s appeal for funds for boots and clothes for the miners families raised the phenomenal sum of £2,555 5s 4d. [120] Entirely voluntary levies were sometimes instituted by some organisations, such as Rowsley NUR whose members gave 10% of their wages for the first two weeks of work back after the General Strike had been called off. [121] It might have only been conscience money, but it was money. Yet not all union branches responded favourably. The traditionally isolationist New Mills painters’ branch voted twice against a levy in national ballots of their union. In June the vote was eleven members against such a levy, with five for; in November there were six members against and two for a levy. [122]
The General Strike severely undermined the finances of the trade union movement. A potentially dangerous view, that industrial strategy ought to be considered principally in the light of union solvency or otherwise, began to predominate. Derby branches of the WU were still repaying Burton-on -Trent branches (which had not been called out) for loans made during the General Strike as late as May 1931, after the WU had already merged with the TGWU due to the former’s financial difficulties. [123] For the TGWU itself, it had paid out £291,869 in one week of the General Strike alone. [124] While the NUR paid out over £1 million. The strike cost the unions dear, aggregate funds dropped from £13 million to £8.5 million in one fell swoop. Funds were hit not only by official dispute benefit payments, but also by special hardship grants. All of the Derbyshire WU members who had come out were paid 10/- a week (with less than three months membership only 5/-), but there were a “large number of members who (were) not entitled to benefit according to rule”. H A Hind raised their case at the WU executive and was able to say that “he had been successful in getting financial assistance for Burton, Bakewell and Youlgreave” branches. [125]
After the initial euphoria, trade union membership began to suffer. As early as July, Stokes was telling the WU that the mining lockout was “having a bad effect on our union locally”. [126] The Derby WU Loco Works branch (No. 1122) membership entrance books reveal that recruitment was dramatically down overall in 1926, compared with previous years. Entrances were unusually high before and during the strike, but slumped afterwards. In 1925, 428 recruits were made but there were only 237 during the whole of 1926. The TGWU lost membership, its Midlands region falling to well below the 1922 level, [127]
    1922                   13,321
    1925                   17,049
    1926                   12,652
The widespread dismay and confusion, following what was not a defeat but a surrender, helped weaken the movement. The path was cleared to passivity and further retreat.
In the coalfields, the miners experienced the worst conditions in living memory. Wages were cut by about one fifth. Victimisation was widespread, by January 1927 there were still just short of a thousand men who had not been taken back in Derbyshire. One victim was Bert Wynn, later to become Derbyshire Area Secretary of the DMA and the National Union of Miners (NUM). He had thought that socialism might have been brought onto the agenda by the strike, but afterwards experienced the most depressing defeatism, for which he largely blamed other trades unionists. He liked to use a saying – “the NUR is on the R-U-N”. Wynn could not get back at his pit in Heanor and had to “sell his books to live and then he had to sell his furniture”. [128] Bolsover saw some of the worst victimisation, for the NDMIU was recognised by coal owners at Alfreton, Bolsover, Beighton Burley and Waleswood. Spencerism became part of a general ideological offensive by the employers against strong and independent unionism, The TUC turned to an open strategy of collaboration with the employers and began to see the forces of the left within the movement as its main enemy and not capitalism itself.
The most militant expression of the workers’ strength had successfully taken place, but it had been thwarted by lack of desire of the leadership to lead such an exhibition. In an amazing twist of reality, the right wing leadership began to blame the newly weakened position of the working class movement on their critics, be they Communists, left Labour activists or the newly politicised militants in the unions. But, despite this infighting, the mood of the working class was not expressed in support for Toryism. In working class districts, Labour gained seats and votes in the local elections of November 1926. A very heavy poll in Derby brought “a great triumph for the Labour Party and the working class as against the employers and the capitalist class”. [129] The support continued, for twelve months later Labour gained three more seats in the town, taking it to the strongest position it had ever been to that time in the council, The authorities retained a strong sense of caution about working class political activity, even as the struggle was coming to an end. Saklatvala, the Communist MP, had been allowed to speak in September at Derby’s Central Hall at a meeting chaired by a “Mr Ashcroft’. The caution was extreme, after all Derby was not a mining town. [130] But the police reacted strongly very late in November, when Harry Pollitt of the Communist Party tried to speak at a public meeting for the CP’s Derby branch. The meeting was only allowed to proceed “under police supervision”, without PoIlitt and only using local speakers. [131]
Ready as ever to extract all that was possible out of the debacle, the Tories pushed through the Trades Disputes and Trade Union Act of 1927. This attacked the political power of the unions. Contracting in to their political funds was substituted for contracting out. Strikes in certain situations were to be classed as illegal. Unions which were affiliated to the Labour Party or the TUC were barred to civil servants. Local authorities could no longer insist on union-only labour contractors. Workers in essential public services were not allowed to break their contracts of employment in any way, inhibiting even ‘go-slow’ disputes. Strikebreakers were given legal protection and picketing made almost impossible, certainly ineffective. Unions could not finance MP5 or councillors, General and sympathetic strikes of all kinds were classed as illegal. It was the most vicious attack on the working class movement for decades, almost a return to the position before 1875 of the Master and Servant Acts. The new Act had immediate and lasting effects. Just for one, it was cited as being “solely responsible for the withdrawal of the Derby branch of the Postal Workers Union” from affiliation to the local Labour Party. [132] How far the new law could be rendered inoperable would depend on the attitude of the unions from herein, The heady period of Red Friday and the nine action packed days of the General Strike was over.
Optimism and militancy were eclipsed by the leadership’s fear of revolution. A fear motivated by a venomous hatred of taking action and of those that advocated such a course. A fear which contrasted sharply within the obsequiousness accorded to the barons of industry and finance. Reformism lay at the heart of the distaste for the strike which Thomas and others displayed. Their betrayal did not simply arise out of personal weakness, being some warped product of Jimmy Thomas’ taste for elegance. It was a built-in tactic of the strategy of reform as against revolution.
Let the last words rest with the miners. A J Cook, visiting Derby to speak at an ILP meeting in January 1927, poured out his bitterness at the sad betrayal. Thomas proved, Cook believed, that he had “more regard for the capitalists than he has for us”. The miners, he sardonically complained, “could have won a wage reduction and an hour’s increase by themselves – without Thomas’s help”!! [133]
Thursday April 29th
TUC Conference of Executives of all unions decides to support miners by vote of 800 to 2.
Friday 30th
State of Emergency declared. Lock-out notices expire at midnight. Saturday May 1st
Individual union executives meet in the morning. Conference of all executives at 12 noon vote for a strike, Telegrams go out at 6pm.
Sunday 2nd
Thomas tries a deal as General Council and Cabinet meet, Printers refuse to print
Daily Mail article.
Monday 3rd
Strike begins at 12 midnight, first phase only. Government refuses further
Tuesday 4th
British Gazette set up, British Worker raided. BBC under Government direction.
Arrests begin in some areas.
Wednesday 5th
First issues of rival newspapers appear, the Government appeals for ‘volunteers’.
Thursday 6th
Simon declares strike to be illegal. Samuel contacts Thomas on Baldwin’s suggestion.
Friday 7th
Government prevents Archbishop of Canterbury from making conciliatory speech on the BBC, TUC leaders meet Samuel, but this is denied by the British Worker. Offer of mediation secretly put.
Saturday 8th
TUC refuses £200,000 gift from Soviet trade unions, Food supplies are guarded by armoured cars in London.
Sunday 9th
Cardinal Bourne for the Catholics declares the strike to be a sin. TUC puts Samuel proposals to miners’ leaders, they insist on no wages cuts or lengthening of the working day.
Monday 10th
Samuel meets TUC and miners.
Tuesday 11th
The second line of workers is supposed to come out – engineering and others, but many are already out. TUC accepts the Samuel Memorandum. MFGB EC rejects it.
Wednesday 12th
TUC surrenders at 12 noon. British Worker claims a victory. Thursday 13th
Now clear that settlement does not include withdrawal of lockout notices, no real guarantees on conditions of work for the miners or victimisation of unionists who have supported them. MFGB firmly opposed.
Friday 14th
Government sends proposals to mine owners less favourable than the Memorandum.
I Emile Burns ‘The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) p122
2 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p677
3 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p686
4 Daily Herald July 31st 1925
5 Derby Trades Council minutes August 12th 1925
6 J Klugmann “History of the Communist Party of Great Britain General Strike 1925-6” Vol 2 Lawrence and Wishart (1960) p690; “Proceedings of the 57th Annual TUC” (1925) p386
7 Derbyshire Times 8th August 1925
8 R Page Arnot “The Miners-Years of Struggle, a history of the MFGB” Allen & Unwin (1953) pp 393-394
9 J E Williams ‘The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p690
10   J Klugmann “History of the Communist Party of Great Britain – General Strike 1925-6” Vol 2 Lawrence and Wishart (1969) p38 – quoting Workers Weekly, October 2nd 1925.
11   Labour Monthly – September 1925; Derby ASLEF minutes August 2nd 1925
12   Harry Pollitt “Serving My Time” Lawrence and Wishart (1940) p211
13   Derby Mercury December 4th 1925
14   Derby Mercury January 8th 1926
15   DTC minutes December 8th 1926
16   J Klugmann “History of the Communist Party of Great Britain – General Strike
1925-6” Vol 2 Lawrence and Wishart (1969)” Vol 2 p266
17   J Klugmann “History of the Communist Party of Great Britain – General Strike 1925-6” Vol 2 Lawrence and Wishart (1969)” Vol 2 p27
18   Labour Monthly March 1926 – article by A J Cook
19   Derby Mercury January 8th 1926
20   Derby Mercury December 4th 1925
21   Derby Mercury October 30th 1925
22   Derby Mercury December 11th 1925
23   Derby Mercury March 26th 1926
24   Derby Daily Telegraph May 1st 1926
25   John Murray ‘The General Strike of 1926 – a History” Lawrence and Wishart (1951) p95
26   John Murray “The General Strike of 1926 – a History” Lawrence and Wishart (1951) p94
27   Derby Daily Telegraph May 3rd 1926 – and subsequent quotations
28   Derbyshire Times May 8th 1926
29   Chesterfield Borough Council – Minutes May 4th 1926. No 2032 and No 2038; Derbyshire Times May 8th 1926.
30   Derby Daily Telegraph May 1st 1926.
31   British Worker No.1
32   Allen Hutt “Post War History of the British Working Class” Victor Gollancz (1937) p136
33   D J Stanier “Blue Bus Services” Moorley’s, Ilkeston (1979) p9
34   Derby Daily Express May 4th, May 11th 1926
35   British Gazette May 11th 1926
36   Derby Evening Telegraph January 6th 1983
37   British Gazette May 8th 1926
38   Derby Daily Express May 4th 1926
39   Derby Mercury May 21st 1926
40   A Clinton “The Trade Union Rank and File – Trades Councils in Britain 1900-40” Manchester University Press (1977) p126
41   Emile Burns “The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) p121
42   Emile Burns “The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) p165; Derby Co-op Society Record June 1926
43   Derby Daily Express May 7th 1926
44   Derbyshire Times May l5th 1926
45   Emile Burns “The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) pp122& p165
46   British Gazette May 11th 1926
47   Derby Mercury May 21st 1926
48   Derbyshire Times May 8th 1926 Ilkeston Pioneer May 14th 1926
49   C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on
Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) pp22, 32, 28, 34, 49, 56; Derbyshire Times 1st, 8th, 15th, and 28th May 1926
50   Emile Burns ‘The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) p165
51   Peter Wyncoll “The East Midlands” in “1926 – The General Strike” (ed. J Skelley) Lawrence and Wishart (1976) p 185
52   Ilkeston Pioneer May 14th 1926
53 Derby Daily Express May 5th 1926; Derbyshire Times May 8th 1926; British Worker May 5th 1926
54   llkeston Borough Council Minutes (Education Committee) May 18th 1926 p246
55 Ilkeston Advertiser May 6th 1926
57   NASOHSPD New Mills minutes May 3rd 1926
58   Derby Daily Express May 8th 1926
59   Derby Strike Bulletin May 6th 1926 – evening edition; C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p59
60   Derby Daily Express May 6th 1926
61   Collection of items deposited by Mr F N Fisher at Derby Local Studies Library
62   Derby Strike Bulletin May 6th 1926 – evening edition
63   Derby Strike Bulletin May 6th 1926 – mid-day edition
64   Derby Strike Bulletin May 7th 1926 – mid day edition
65   Derby Daily Express May 6th 1926
66   Derby Strike Bulletin May 7th 1926 llkeston Pioneer May 14th 1926
67   Derby Daily Express May 8th 1926
68   Derby Strike Bulletin May 8th 1926 – mid day edition
69   Typewritten verbatim record of BBC news bulletins, presumably collated by the Derby strike committee, contained in the Fisher deposits.
70   British Gazette May 8th 1926
71   Derbyshire Times May 15th 1926
72   R Page Arnot “The Miners – years of struggle: a history of the MFGB” Allen and Unwin (1953) pp 433-4
73   Derby Daily Express May 11th 1926
74   Derby WU DC minutes May 22nd 1926
7S Derby Daily Express May 11th 1926
76   Derby Daily Express May 12th 1926
77   Ben Taylor, an ASLEF activist in Derby, remembers his mother talking of doing this.
78   Emile Burns ‘The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (197S) p121
79   Derby Daily Express May 12th 1926
80   Derby Daily Express May 11th 1926; Derby Co-op Record June 1926
81   Derby Co-op Record May 12th 1926
82   C Farman “The General Strike May 1926” Panther (1974) p291; C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p63
83   Emile Bums ‘The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) pp122, 132, 165
84   Peter Wyncoll “The East Midlands” in ‘1926 – The General Strike” ed. J Skelley Lawrence and Wishart (1976) p188; C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p38
85   H R S Phillpott “Biography of J H Thomas – impressions of a remarkable career” Sampson Low (1932) p5
86   Les Clay conversations with the author; C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p37
87   C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p60; Derby Daily Express May 12th 1926; Ilkeston Pioneer May 14th 1926
88   Derby Daily Express May 14th 1926
89   Derby Mercury May 21st 1926
90   Derby Mercury July 23rd 1926
91   llkeston Pioneer May 14th 1926; Derby WU DC minutes May 22nd 1926; Derby Co-op Record June 1926
92   Rowsley NUR Minutes May 30th 1926
93   C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p48; Derbyshire Times May 15th 1926; J E Williams ‘The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p701
94   Derbyshire Times May 22nd 1926; Ilkeston Pioneer May 28th 1926
95   Emile Burns ‘The General Strike – May 1926: Trades Councils in Action” LRD (1926) – facsimile reprint Lawrence and Wishart (1975) p122
96   J Klugmann “History of the Communist Party of Great Britain – the General Strike 1925-6” Vol 2 Lawrence and Wishart (1969) p266
97   Derby Mercury June 25th 1926
98   C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on
Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974) p40; Peter Wyncoll “The East Midlands” in “1926- The General Strike” (ed. J Skelley) Lawrence and Wishart (1976) p184
99 John Murphy – Derby Evening Telegraph July 14th 1984; Jack Pepper – Derby Evening Telegraph February 10th 1983
100 Peter Wyncoll ‘The East Midlands” in “1926 – The General Strike” ed. J Skelley Lawrence and Wishart (1976) p182; Ilkeston Pioneer July 16th 1926; John Murphy – Derby Evening Telegraph July 14th 1984
101 Derby Co-op Record August 1926;LA Fletcher “The General Strike and the Coal Dispute of 1926 with particular reference to Ilkeston” BA Honours Nottingham (1981) p50-1; Joseph Kitts in J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p775
102 Derbyshire Times June 5th 1926
103 Derbyshire Times July 3rd 1926
104 Elsie Gadsby “Black Diamonds – Yellow Apples: a working class Derbyshire childhood between the wars” Scollins and Tifford, llkeston (1978) p50; Peter Wyncoll “The East Midlands” in “1926 – The General Strike” (ed. J Skelley) Lawrence and Wishart (1976) p181
105 Derby Mercury August 27th 1926
106 Derby Evening Telegraph January 6th 1983
107 Derbyshire Times August 28th 1926
108 Derbyshire Times August 28th 1926
109 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p718
110 Derbyshire Times September 25th 1926; B Lewis & B GIedhill (1985) ‘Tommy James – a Lion of a Man” Yorkshire Arts Circus (1985) p18
111 Derbyshire Times September 4th 1926
112 Derbyshire Times September 11th 1926; LA Fletcher “The General Strike and the Coal Dispute of 1926 with particular reference to Ilkeston” BA Honours Nottingham 1981 p67
113 Derbyshire Times October 16th 1926
114 Derbyshire Times October 16th & 23rd 1926
115 Derby Town Council poster November 2nd 1926
116 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p726
117 Derbyshire Times December 4th 1926
118 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p592
119 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p729
120 Derby Labour Party Annual Report 1927
121 Rowsley NUR minutes May 20th 1926
122 New Mills NA5OH5PD branch minutes June 28th November 15th 1926
123 TGWU (ex-WU) Derby District Committee minutes May 16th 1931
124 “The TGWU Story” TGWU (1979) p23
125 WU Derby DC minutes May 22nd 1926
126 WU Derby DC minutes July 17th 1926
127 WU Loco Branch 1122 Entrance Books 1925 & 1926; TGWU Record September 1939
128 C I Bratley-Kendall (BA Thesis) “The General Strike of 1926 its impact on
Chesterfield” deposited in Chesterfield Library – unpublished BA Thesis (1974)
p 28, p 50
129 Derby Mercury November 5th 1926
130 Derby Mercury September 24th 1926
131 Derby Mercury November 26th 1926
132 Derby Labour Party Annual Report 1928
133 Derby Mercury January 21st 1927

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