In solidarity with our colleagues who are exercising their democratic right to strike for their working conditions today, I thought I would post my top 3 strikes in living memory.
These are what we would call old school, proper strikes. No questions of these conflicts being voted through by a minority of members, or protesting over pensions - this was the hard stuff, these disputes matter in the here & now to millions of workers who were living hand to mouth. And these were no knee jerk, down tools reactions which our Gallic cousins are famous for - these strikes were entered into with a heavy hearted foreknowledge that it would hurt the strikers & their families even as they sought to change the direction of the government. In descending order:
Strike 3: The General Strike 1926
Amidst the changing social landscape of the post world war & flu pandemic turmoil, the Baldwin Government took on the Miners. As a million men were locked out from the pits, the TUC took 2 million other working men out in support, stirring a revolution which threatened to bring down the Government.
Even King George V was initially supportive, telling those who criticised the workers to 'try living on their wages!'
But as a large proportion of Britain's working men downed tools from John O Groats to Lands End, the tide of sympathy quickly turned. Workers were accused of making war on the people & fermenting anarchy.
By the time the weakened TUC went cap in hand to Downing Street on May 12th to call off the strike, they didn't even have the guts to insist on an agreement that employers must take back every man who had been on strike.
Strike 2: Miners Strike 1984-85
The strike which dominated our TV news in the mid 80's & thrust fame on the unlikely scrape over hair hero that was Arthur Scargill.
The NUM had helped to bring down the Heath Government in 1974, but now was broken over the rock of Thatcher - humbled & reduced, political power in the Unions permanently diluted to this day.
From March 1984 to March 1985, the nation was split with divided loyalties. Extreme poverty after a year without wages broke the back of the strike, & long standing bitterness towards Tory power & the Police remains undiminished a generation on. Just as significantly, the social history of working class England which had developed since the Industrial Revolution now lay transformed. Trained, skilled men now out of work for years, or taking jobs in faceless retail parks. Proud communities of workers, living near their work now seeing the town & the street degenerate. We have yet to see the full consequence of this change in value for the working man in the UK.
Strike 1: Gdansk Shipyard. 1980
As Ship workers went on strike over high food prices in the Summer of 1980 in Communist Poland, the world expected their rebellion to be ruthlessly crushed by the state machine. Instead, the Government backed down & the first non communist controlled Trade Union emerged under the charismatic leadership of an electrician called Lech Walesa. At their height, over 9.5 million workers were members, over a third of Poland's working men.
Their sheer size & the post Gadansk momentum lifted Solidarity above a mere trade union to become a kind of reformation movement. It is no hyperbole to say that Solidarity changed the destiny of Poland, was a major part of the domino effect which brought down the Communist regime, eventually leading to Walesa the Union Leader becoming Walesa the President of Poland - & all this whilst sporting one of the finest moustaches in modern history!