It was described as an earthquake that shook the foundations of British capitalism and the greatest display of militant power in working class history.
This week in May 1926 Manchester was in the grip of the General Strike.
For nine days, public transport was brought to halt, fuel and food supplies were threatened and heavy industry all but closed down completely.
More than 1.7 million workers, including thousands in the North West, walked out in support of the miners’ union.
The strike had been called by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress in protest at mine owners’ plans to reduce wages and increase hours.
There had been rumbling discontent since the end of the First World War when mines were handed back to private ownership after years in government control.
Miners were locked out and forced back to work after three months on strike in protest at wage cuts.
Matters came to a head again in June 1925 when mine owners once more tried to increase hours and cut wages. The TUC pledged its support to the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain – and threatened an all-out mining and transport strike.
It was only averted because the government stepped in with a subsidy to maintain miner’s wages for nine months.
But negotiations between the miners and owners failed and the most significant British labour dispute of the 20th century lurched into life on May 3rd.
Around 1.2 million miners were locked out as transport came to a standstill and newspapers failed to be printed. Large numbers of gas and electricity workers, dockers and builders stayed off work.
The Manchester rush-hour was devoid of its usual trams and buses as overloaded private cars, bicycles and pedestrians took to the streets.
Commuters on the Stockport Road at Longsight were forced to use makeshift public transport as our photo shows.
Many of the cars had opened up ‘dickie seats’ in the boots to carry more people. The woman cyclist on the left is carefully using string to prevent her skirt getting tangled in the wheels!
The government and Home Secretary Winston Churchill had used the nine-month truce leading up to the strike to their advantage. Volunteers were organised to run trains and buses – and even deliver the mail.
Royal mail vans were driven by women throughout the country and the post was even brought in by RAF biplanes!
But it was a time of great hardship for working families as wages were lost. Women in Manchester were forced to comb slag heaps outside the city for fuel – a heartless task.
As the strike progressed through May it became clear to the TUC that the government could hold out longer than the workers. After nine days the TUC called off the dispute.
There were no guarantees of fair treatment for the miners, who fought on until October. In 1927 the government passed a law outlawing sympathy strikes.
The General Strike was described at the time as a ‘brilliant failure’, although the display of labour solidarity brought a deep and enduring effect.
It was no surprise that the Labour party won more seats than any other party in the 1929 general election.
The legacy of the General Strike in Manchester was a series of actions by workers in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Cotton weavers went on strike in August 1932 to protest against owners’ plans to reduce wages and introduce short time. Women gathered on street corners in their clogs as factories were closed to them.
More than 200,000 spinners had stopped work in Lancashire in October 1932. Many had defied their unions’ acceptance of an agreement to cut wages by more than a shilling in the pound.
Finally, there was one bright note in the gloom of 1926 and the General Strike – Bolton Wanderers won the FA Cup!
Local fans in their thousands put their cares aside for a day to travel to Wembley as the opposing team was none other than Manchester City!
A crowd of 91,447 saw David Jack score the only goal for Bolton in the 76th minute. Our photo shows Jimmy Seddon holding the trophy with Billy Butler, Jimmy McFelland and Ted Vizar.
On returning to Manchester, the City team went straight from a civic reception at the Town Hall to play Leeds United at Maine Road. They won 2-1 but couldn’t stave off relegation to the Second Division the following Saturday.
They were the first FA Cup finalists ever to be relegated in the same season.