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The General Strike: Sources at the Modern Records Centre

The General Strike was the largest industrial dispute in Britain’s history and caused real fears (and hopes) of a revolution. It lasted for a total of nine days – between 4 May 1926 to 12 May 1926 – and was called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to support the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) in their dispute over the cancellation of national agreements, reduction of wages and increase in working hours imposed by mine-owners.

The Modern Records Centre holds key archives for the study of the General Strike, including unique documents which demonstrate the role of the trade unions during this period. This is not a comprehensive guide to all relevant records that we hold, but is a summary of the main collections, divided into the following sections - archives of trade unions, archives of employers' organisations, archives of individuals, business archives and miscellaneous material. Other sources can be found by searching our online catalogue.

Photos of London during this turbulent period are included in our image gallery 'A General Strike photograph album', other examples of documents relating to the coal crisis and the General Strike are included in the image gallery 'King Coal'. A selection of documents on the General Strike taken from the TUC Library Collections at London Metropolitan University are included in their TUC History Online website.

Strike bulletins

We have digitised contemporary newspaper bulletins, radio transcripts and reports on the General Strike - over 450 items are now available - visit our project pages to access the documents and find out more...

Strike bulletins

 

Archives of trade unions:

Trades Union Congress (MSS.292)

There are nearly 250 subject files in the TUC archive on all aspects of the General Strike. These are divided into five principal sections - the 'Main Series', 'Subsidiary Series', 'Organisation Committee', 'Industrial Disputes' and 'Nottinghamshire Miners' Dispute', and contain minutes, reports, memoranda, correspondence, press statements, circulars and publications.

The 'Main Series' concentrates on the run-up to and aftermath of the General Strike, and includes files on the mining crisis of the mid 1920s, relations with the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and A.J. Cook, deputations to and correspondence with the Prime Minister, negotiations with the government, conferences of trade unionists, TUC committees (including the Special Industrial Committee (Mining Crisis)), the Samuel Commission and report, and financial assistance for miners and their families. The 'Subsidiary Series' concentrates on the strike itself, and includes files on foreign opinion (notably in the USSR), responses to the termination of the strike, district and intelligence reports, strike committees, imprisonment of miners and victimisation of strikers, strike bulletins, TUC General Council decisions and declarations, publicity (including the 'British Worker'), returns from unions regarding the number of members who had gone on strike and the financial consequences, special conferences of trade union executives in June 1926 and January 1927, and the Powers and Orders Committee.

The papers of the Organisation Committee deal with the organisation and management of the strike, and include committee minutes, numerous correspondence files, summaries of statements broadcast by the BBC, Independent Labour Party (ILP) and TUC notes for speakers, and reports of the Intelligence Department and other committees. The series on 'Industrial Disputes' contains files on disputes by other unions during 1926-30, whilst the series on 'Nottingham Miners' Dispute' describes the situation in the Nottinghamshire coal-fields after the General Strike and relations with the Nottingham and District Miners' Industrial Union (established by George Spencer MP and regarded as a "black-legs' union").

The TUC archives also include the following individual files: correspondence regarding relations between the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and Trades Union Congress, including after the General Strike, 1924-1932 (MSS.292/91M/177); 'Poor Law Relief: Reduction to Strikers', 1926 (MSS.292/871/4); file on Czechoslovakia, including documents relating to agitation in Czechoslovakia over the British General Strike and miners' strike, 1926 (MSS.292/943.7/1); "Corres[pondence] with USSR", 1924-1928, including documents re the British General Strike (MSS.292/947/4); and reports, correspondence, etc., of the Anglo Russian Committee (subjects discussed include the British General Strike) (MSS.292/947/22).

International Transport Workers' Federation (MSS.159)

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) archive includes 3 subject files on the British General Strike (MSS.159/3/C/289-291), which contain: correspondence with affiliates and other unions on a proposed British coal blockade, the conduct of the strike, earlier British shipping disputes, and the threatened resignation of J. Henson from his ITF Cardiff post over the strike; the text of an illegal radio broadcast on the strike, and ITF circulars and bulletins. The archive also includes a report by Edo Fimmen on the General Strike, submitted to the ITF General Council meeting, September 1926 (MSS.159/3/C/300); and Fimmen's letters on the General Strike, 1926 (MSS.159/3/D/249).

Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (MSS.36)

The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC) was formed in 1917 and was the largest union in the steel industry.

ISTC archives include: Industrial Council - Welsh plate and steel trades, minutes of a special meeting on the General Strike, 1926 (MSS.36/I24); publications and printed ephemera concerning the General Strike, 1926, with minutes of ISTC meetings on the General Strike and coal crises (MSS.36/S55); South Wales Siemens Steel Trade Conciliation Board, report of special meeting on the General Strike, Jun 1926 (MSS.36/2003/7); Central joint conference on questions due to the recent General Strike, Oct 1926 and Jun 1927 - heavy steel trades joint committee central conference (MSS.36/I30a); report of special meeting on matters arising from the General Strike, 2 June 1926 (MSS.36/2003/126); guarantees concerning the General Strike given by the workmen's side of the Joint Industrial Council for the Welsh Plate and Sheet Trades, 3 June 1926 (MSS.36/2003/62).

National Union of Railwaymen (MSS.127)

The NUR archive includes documents relating to the National Union of Railwaymen and its involvement in the Triple Alliance (formed in 1914 between the NUR, the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and the National Transport Workers' Federation). Records relating to the General Strike include: printed verbatim proceedings of a debate on the General Strike, July 1926 (MSS.127/NU/1/4/13B); files containing: proceedings of Trades Union Congress Industrial Committee deputations to the Prime Minister and government ministers; TUC bulletins, circulars, reports and ephemera; NUR circulars, telegrams and summaries of messages received; summaries of BBC radio news bulletins; agreements and correspondence re the end of the dispute and reinstatement of strikers; sets of 'British Worker' and 'Scottish Worker'; issues of 'British Gazette' and other newspapers; proceedings of the NUR annual general meeting on 6 July 1926; draft and proof articles by J.H. Thomas, defending his actions during the strike; and miscellaneous printed and duplicated ephemera, correspondence and press cuttings (MSS.127/NU/GS/3/99-116); papers collected by Philip Bagwell, whilst researching his book 'Railwaymen. History of the National Union of Railwaymen', including correspondence regarding the General Strike (MSS.127/NU/6/IN14-15).

Transport and General Workers' Union (MSS.126)

The archive of the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) contains the second most significant collection of documents on the General Strike held at the Modern Records Centre. The main series consists of over 90 files and items, including: instructions to members in particular industries; circulars; reports from local areas and to the Trades Union Congress; TUC bulletins, instructions and circulars; TGWU instructions; correspondence, including with the TUC and regarding strike pay; reports on radio coverage; documents regarding meetings, publicity, finance, issuing of permits, despatch riders, police and military activity, and international issues; publicity material, including pamphlets, copies of the 'British Worker' and other newspapers; and documents regarding the termination of the strike, settlements re resumption of work, and victimisation of strikers.

Prior written permission to consult unpublished records in the Transport and General Workers' Union archive is required - contact the Modern Records Centre for further information. See also the archives of Ernest Bevin (MSS.126/EB).

Union of Post Office Workers (MSS.148)

The collection includes: verbatim report of discussion on the General Strike in a closed session at the 1926 annual general meeting (MSS.148/UCW/2/13/7); documents relating to the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act (introduced in 1927 as a response to the General Strike), and its effect on government employees (MSS.148/UCW/3/3/1-23); publications, including bulletins, newspapers, pamphlets, notes for speakers and leaflets (MSS.148/UCW/6/8/1-28 and MSS.148/UCW/6/13/15/4).

 

Archives of employers' organisations:

British Employers' Confederation (MSS.200/B)

The BEC had its origins in the Employers' Advisory Council, which was established in 1917 to consider the issue of industrial and labour relations. The Employers' Advisory Council (renamed the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations) became the BEC in 1939. It merged with the Federation of British Industries and the National Association of British Manufacturers to form the Confederation of British Industry in 1965. Membership was open to employers' organisations rather than individual businesses and firms.

Includes minutes, annual reports and circulars from the period around the General Strike, and copy of 'Behind the scenes of the Great Strike' by Hamilton Fyfe, produced by the Labour Publishing Company in June 1926 (MSS.200/B/5/2).

Federation of British Industries (MSS.200/F)

The FBI was founded in 1916 as a representative organisation for industry. By 1964 it had a membership of over 9,000 individual firms and 272 trade associations, and was the largest of the three organisations which merged to form the Confederation of British Industry in 1965.

Includes minutes and circulars from the period around the General Strike, and a correspondence file on meetings with the government regarding the coal crises of 1921 and 1926 (MSS.200/F/3/S1/28/1).

The Shipping Federation

The Shipping Federation was founded in 1890, in order to promote the interests of shipowners.

Includes minutes from the period around the General Strike; together with an edition of the Workers Bulletin (MSS.367/TSF/10/2/1) and bundle of cuttings regarding the strike (MSS.367/TSF/10/2/2).

 

Archives of individuals:

Papers of Ernest Bevin (1884-1951), trade union leader and politician (MSS.126/EB)

Ernest Bevin was General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) between 1922-1945, and a member of the Trades Union Congress General Council from 1925 onwards.

Bevin's papers include 12 files on the coal crisis of 1925, the General Strike of 1926, and subsequent inquiries and recriminations (MSS.126/EB/GS/1-12). They include: reports, both published and private, issued by the TUC General Council, Miners' Federation of Great Britain and TGWU on conferences, meetings and correspondence exchanged; minutes of and Bevin's notes on meetings; Bevin's correspondence, including TUC and TGWU memoranda and some copies of other correspondence supplied to him; press-cuttings; TGWU agreements; and correspondence with employers. These papers deal particularly with: Bevin's role in the organisation and administration of the strike; his role in its termination; and the safeguarding of TGWU agreements with employers in the aftermath of the strike. Bevin's archives also include a file on the National Docks Group Committee meeting of October 1926, dealing with the general strike and the 'Potter case' [the formation of a breakaway communist-led dockers' union in London] (MSS.126/EB/TG/5/1-6).

Prior written permission to consult unpublished records in the Ernest Bevin archive is required - contact the Modern Records Centre for further information.

Papers of Stan Awbery (1888-1969), politician and trade union officer (MSS.126/SA)

The collection includes 'The British Worker', nos.4-7, and Swansea General Strike Bulletin, nos.1-10.

Papers of Hugo Dewar (1908-1980), Trotskyist (MSS.206)

The collection includes six newspapers produced during or immediately after the General Strike (MSS.206/3/2/1-6).

Papers of Reg Groves (1908-1988), journalist and socialist (MSS.172)

The collection includes material collected in connection with Groves' contribution towards 'The General Strike in Battersea 1926: a reassessment' - mostly published material, including contemporary pamphlets, leaflets, circulars, newspapers and journals (MSS.172/GS/1-46).

Papers of William Henry Stokes JP (1894-1977), trade unionist and Communist

The collection includes the following files: General Strike in Coventry - Local strike bulletins and notes (MSS.289/5/9-18); handbills and bulletins issued in Birmingham, London and Oxford (MSS.289/5/19-27); and newspapers and newspaper cutting, including issues of British Gazette, British Worker, Daily Herald, Daily Mail and New Leader (MSS.289/5/28-40).

Papers of Harry Wicks (1905-1989), Trotskyist (MSS.102)

During the early / mid 1920s, Harry Wicks was on the Southern District Council of the National Union of Railwaymen and produced and distributed the Communist railwaymen's paper the 'Victoria Signal'. In 1926, after suffering victimisation for his active participation in the General Strike, Wicks was elected to the Executive of the Young Communist League (YCL).

The archive includes drafts and notes for Wicks' autobiography, including for a chapter on the General Strike; the pamphlet 'The General Strike' by Harry Wicks, 1976; and a published copy of Wicks' autobiography. Extracts from interviews with Wicks, including some of his memories of the General Strike, are available on another page on our website, A veteran Trotskyist remembers.

Papers of Arthur Primrose Young (1885-1977), works manager, British Thomson-Houston (MSS.242)

Includes BTH circular to workforce relating to end of General Strike, issued by Young, 1926 (MSS.242/BIO/26), and copies of and cuttings from Birmingham Post, British Gazette, Daily Mail, Midland Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times (MSS.242/PR/1).

 

Business archives

Associated Equipment Company Ltd

Minute book of Board and General meetings, Jan 1926-Oct 1927, including references to the General Strike (MSS.226/AE/1/1/3).

Burroughs Wellcome & Co., Printing Department (776)

Internal papers regarding the management of the Printing Department during the General Strike (and in 1929 and 1932); with applications by 50 employees for re-instatement to their posts following the end of the General Strike.

Ragosine Oil Company

Circulars, including orders in anticipation of the General Strike and re the strike itself (MSS.198/R/3/6).

 

Miscellaneous

Newspapers printed during the General Strike (644)

Collection of 5 newspapers printed between 6-9 May 1926 (digitised and available online).

Newspapers printed during the General Strike (733)

Collection of 25 newspapers printed between 5-17 May 1926.

Documents regarding the General Strike in the North East of England (photocopies and originals) (802)

Copies of strike bulletins, documents relating to Northumberland and Durham Central Strike Committee, and government reports.

Miscellaneous Collection (MSS.21)

Includes items of ephemera (particularly newspapers) given by various depositors - MSS.21/64-66, MSS.21/590, MSS.21/718-722, MSS.21/1441/1-17, MSS.21/1922, MSS.21/3376, MSS.21/3377, and MSS.21/3692; and letters regarding the General Strike - MSS.21/567 and MSS.21/1056.