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Welsh History Review

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Vol. 8, nos. 1-4 1976-77

1926 : the general strike : Book review.

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There is financial difficulty and emotional loss. There is drink and a tinge
of despair. The Liberal Party ploughs its way from crisis to crisis, and
Asquith has neither the capacity nor the will to sustain its life. It is, then,
certainly not a history of personal happiness and consummate political
achievement. Yet, Koss is at pains to emphasize, and rightly, that it was
the life Asquith himself wanted, and he has not painted a pathetic picture
of a man suborned from greatness by the imperious will of Margot.
KEITH ROBBINS
Bangor
1926: THE GENERAL STRIKE. Edited by Jeffrey Skelley. Lawrence and
Wishart, 1976. Pp. xiv, 412. Hardback £ 6.00, paperback £ 2.00.
The fiftieth anniversary of the General Strike stimulated a whole crop
of books, monographs and articles, to say nothing of television specials
and radio programmes, which sought to reassess the most dramatic event
in British interwar history. The subject had become even more topical,
because mining and the miners were once again at the centre of British
politics. Partly because of this, the emphasis in all this discussion was much
more serious than in some earlier accounts, which had concentrated on the
British middle class muddling through, with undergraduates in plus-fours
and fair-isle pullovers driving buses and trains.
Such emphasis could hardly be expected from a book published by
Lawrence and Wishart, in which many of the contributors are members
of the Communist Party. Instead, the thesis of a really revolutionary
situation in which the working class, only dimly aware of the opportunity
their remarkable solidarity had created, was betrayed by self-serving leaders
is implicit in many of the individual contributions. Prominent too in some
of the essays are the hard facts about the coal crisis, the collapse of Britain's
traditional export industries, and the subjugation of manufacture to
finance, symbolised by the catalytic, and catastrophic, decision to return
to the Gold Standard in 1925.
But the real value of this collection of separate studies and personal
memoirs is their regional focus. The great gap in our knowledge of the
Strike has been at the local level. Apart from Emile Burn's pathfinding
1926 study, Trades Councils in Action, which was based on reports sub-
mitted by strike leaders, regional analyses have been few and far between.
Yet if we are really to understand the Strike, why it happened as it did, why
it was so solid, and why it failed, we have to understand the differences
between the regions, which were much greater then than now. So it is
refreshing in these pages to be able to follow events not only on Wales, but
also Scotland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, the Midlands and the West Country,
as well as London-though Whitechapel rather than Whitehall.
The problem with this regional perspective is revealed in George Barnsby's
workmanlike chapter, where he states baldly 'There are no surviving
trade union sources for the strike in the Black Country'. New branch
secretaries sweep clean, and old records are slung out just at the time when
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