The Nine Days (1927)
COPYRIGHT IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE
AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
ALL TRANSLATION RIGHTS RESERVED
THE NINE DAYS.
THE MINERS’ CASE DEMANDS VICTORY
EVER since last July when "Red Friday" wiped out the stain of "Black Friday" and brought joy to the heart of every worker, the capitalist class of Britain, backed by a strong Tory Government, has been preparing to retrieve its position; while many of the Labour leaders, almost afraid of the growing power of Labour industrially, knowing the activities of the Government and their preparations, remained inactive.
Some of us now labelled Left Wing leaders, realising that the struggle was only postponed, had been urging the workers to make every preparation through their organisations for what appeared to be a severe struggle in May. Our slogan was 100 per cent. organisation, with real live active political leadership, so that when the 1st of May arrived the men and women of the Labour Movement would be ready to defend their interests. Every miners' leader knew that the employers and the Government would renew the attack, and feeling our helplessness, apart from the support of the whole Labour Movement, we had kept in touch continuously with the same Committee of the Trades Union Congress that had acted so promptly and courageously in July.
But it must be clearly understood that the Committee that acted in July had a different chairman and some different members. Comrade Swales never hesitated to give the necessary lead. The new Committee of the T.U.C. had Mr. J.H. Thomas in place of Mr. Marchbank, and Mr. Pugh in place of Mr. Purcell on the Industrial or Negotiating Committee—changes that were in no way helpful or healthy in the miners' interests.
Despite this the miners kept in close touch with the General Council Sub-Committee, which on February 26th made clear their stand by declaring that they stood in the same position as they did last July, and made the following declaration:—
The Industrial Committee has been in regular consultation with the Miners’ Federation, and while it would be premature at the present stage to attempt to formulate any detailed policy which may have to be pursued, the Committee has already reaffirmed the attitude of the Trade Union Movement as expressed in July last, namely, that it would stand firmly and unitedly against any attempt to degrade further the standards of life in the coal fields. There was to be no reduction in wages, no increase in working hours, and no interference with the principle of national agreements.
From then onwards, even before the Commission’s Report and during the sittings of the Commission, we were in constant touch with the Committee, and for the first time in the history of the Labour Movement arrived at a joint policy and programme to place before the Royal Commission. The only difference of opinion was between the industrial movement and the political movement regarding compensation for the royalty owners. Strange to say, the leaders of the Parliamentary Labour Party who had been preaching Socialism for many years, were the ones who opposed the policy of the Miners’ Federation and the Trades Union Congress in regard to the question of compensation or confiscation of royalties.
Mr. MacDonald said that while no economic or moral case could be made out for compensation to the Royalty Owners, and indeed it had been the policy of Socialists for many years to oppose such compensation, we had arrived at a stage in the history of the Labour Party when political expediency necessitated that we should support compensation for Royalty owners.
The Parliamentary party thus stood for compensation, while the miners and the T.U.C. stood for taking their "rights" away from the royalty owners without compensation, believing that these owners had robbed the community and the workers, particularly the workers in the mining industry, quite enough during the past years. The policy we put before the Samuel Commission was thus the first constructive policy (apart from our previous nationalisation proposals) agreed upon by the parliamentary and the industrial labour movement. Unfortunately, since then it has been left in the background by the parliamentary movement.
On several occasions the T.U.C. Negotiating Committee reaffirmed its declaration of the 26th February, as given above and reassured the miners’ representatives that they would use every effort to defend our present low standards.
Thus, on April 14th, they passed the following resolution: "This Committee reiterates its previous declaration to render the miners the fullest support in resisting the degradation of the standard of life, and to obtain an equitable settlement of the case with regard to wages, hours, and national agreements."
Again, on April 30th (the very day of the lock-out) according to the "Daily Herald" of next day, "a firm declaration was presented to the Premier by a Joint Sub-Committee reiterating the original declaration that there must be no reduction of wages, no lengthening of hours, and insisting on a National Agreement with a national minimum percentage."
Herbert Smith, our president, had repeatedly pointed out that our position was such as we could not continue even as we are for very long, owing to our low wages and irregular work. Therefore, we must at all costs resist the attack upon our wages and hours.
It was well known to the leaders of the Labour Movement that the owners and the Government were determined not only to reduce wages in the mining industry but also to lengthen hours, and we felt that in view of our stand against the attempts of the employers to attack the railwaymen, dockers, teachers, municipal employés, and others, we had a right to expect the other workers to support us when our standard of living was being attacked. A defeat of the miners would prove—as 1921 proved—a defeat and demoralisation of the whole working-class movement.
I will not weary the reader with what is now so well known—the story of the various developments in regard to the mining question up to the lock-out. One thing I want to make clear. The British coalowners had declared publicly, long before the Commission’s Report came out, that they would never again meet the miners’ representatives; never again submit to National Agreements, and that they would again insist on district settlements—and thus break up the power, the unity and solidarity of the mine worker—which has developed so markedly since the building up of the Miners’ Federation.
It was on the 9th of April that our Miners' Delegate Conference passed the following resolution which was strictly in conformity with the T.U.C. Committee’s statement of February 26th, quoted above:-
"That this Conference, having considered the report of the Royal Commission and the proposals of the coalowners thereon, recommends the districts as follows:—
"(a) That no assent be given to any proposal for increasing the length of the working day.
"(b) That the principle of a national wage agreement with a national minimum percentage be firmly adhered to.
"(c) That inasmuch as wages are already too low, we cannot assent to any proposals for reducing wages.
"These recommendations to be remitted to the districts for their immediate consideration and decision, after which a further delegate conference be called as speedily as possible for the purpose of arriving at a final decision."
On April 30th our lock-out notices terminated without any proposals being placed by the coalowners before the miners’ leaders for consideration. The only proposals were those placed at the pit-heads, which were worse than those put forward last July, and roused the indignation of every decent human being who understood them. They gave us, for information, these scales, with their variations from district to district, just before they were put up at the pit-tops. They would not discuss them. They would not negotiate with us for any national scale whatever.
Not until 1-15 p.m. on the 30th April, when the men had already been locked out, were terms placed before the miners’ leaders through the medium of the British Prime Minister. These terms were:—
A reduction in the minimum percentage to 20 per cent. above 1914, instead of the existing 33⅓ per cent., on condition that the working hours should be extended from seven to eight per day for at least three and a-half years.
These proposals the miners’ leaders as well as the T.U.C. Negotiating Committee—especially J.H. Thomas—agreed were not worthy even of consideration.
In the meantime the T.U.C. General Council, recognising that a struggle was inevitable owing to the attitude of the Government and the coalowners, called together on April 29th a Conference of Executives of all the unions before which I had the honour of placing the miners' case. The Conference kept in session until Saturday, May 1st. There were two decisions of importance. One was that no negotiations should take place until the lock-out notices had been withdrawn, and the other was the now historic and memorable decision of 1st of May, which included a decision that no one should return to work at the end of the General Strike unless all union agreements were to be maintained.
Some of us felt that this Conference should have been called earlier to make all preparations for the struggle.
Time and again we had appealed for that to be done. But there were certain leaders who were determined that no preparations should be made. Most notable among them was J.H. Thomas, arguing that any preparations would only encourage the Government to make ready, and would lead people to believe that we thought a fight inevitable. Either this was hypocrisy or lack of knowledge. As everybody knew, the Government had made full preparations to meet any emergency, and were determined that the miners should have their National Agreements broken and their hours lengthened.
The miners' case for a living wage has never been questioned. No body of men, whatever their political opinions, could deny the miners' claim to a living wage, nor could they deny that the wages operating on April 30th did not even represent wages equivalent to the standard of life in 1914. And the whole Labour Movement were unanimous on one thing: that they would take any action necessary to protect our present hours and standards. Therefore, the decision of May 1st was to support the miners in defending their present position. No longer hours; no reductions in wages; and no breaking of the National Agreement. That was clear. For example, Bevin, speaking at the Memorial Hall on behalf of the General Council, said: "Even if every penny goes, and every asset is swallowed up, history will write that it was a magnificent generation that was prepared to do this rather than see the miners driven down like slaves."
A question that may arise in the minds of some doubting Thomases is connected with the fact that we decided to hand over to the T.U.C. the whole case of the miners for future negotiations. Prior to the Conference of May 1st, the miners met the General Council in the Memorial Hall, and there it was made clear by our President and myself that we handed over our case to the General Council to defend our present position, on the understanding that they would adhere to their decisions of February 26th, and that we should act in conjunction with the General Council in all negotiations. In the words of our President, Herbert Smith, "We shall not surrender our revolvers—our tongues—to make our own declarations, our opinions on every movement."
The Chairman of the T.U.C. and Mr. J. H. Thomas declared emphatically, in their speeches at the meeting before the Conference of May 1st, that we were handing over our case on the clear understanding that the T.U.C. would adhere to their decision of February 26th, and that the representatives of the miners should be consulted by them, and act in conjunction with them in every move made in the dispute.
It was on this understanding that we and the whole Labour Movement accepted unanimously the leadership of the T.U.C.
This ends the first chapter of this great historical drama.
On May 1st the Conference of Executives had decided, by 3,653,529 votes to 49,911, to empower the General Council to go ahead with a General Strike.
Thus the Trade Union Movement laid down with great enthusiasm and determination a policy of preparedness to meet the great capitalist offensive.
After this wonderful decision of the Union Executives, all left for their homes with the determination to carry out the policy agreed upon. My Committee also left for their districts for the week-end to make preparations now that the men were locked out.
They went to this work feeling certain that, as the Government had repeatedly refused to consider any sort of fair terms for the miners, after long hours of negotiations, and as the Union E.C.'s had been almost unanimous in their decision to fight and the T.U.C. had undertaken not to negotiate without us, they could leave London safely; but no sooner had the delegates left for home than the following two letters were despatched to the Government by the General Council:—
"1st May, 1926.
"The Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin, M.P.,
"10, Downing Street. Whitehall, S.W. 1.
"Dear Sir,—I have to advise you that the Executive Committees of the Trade Unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, including the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, have decided to hand over to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, the conduct of the dispute, and the negotiations in connection therewith will be undertaken by the General Council.
"I am instructed to say that the General Council will hold themselves available at any moment should the Government desire to discuss the matter further.
"Walter M. Citrine."
"1st May, 1926.
"The Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin, M.P.,
"10, Downing Street, Whitehall, S.W. 1.
"Mining Lock-out—Essential Food-Stuffs.
"Dear Sir,—I am directed to inform you that in the event of the strike of unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress taking place in support of the miners who have been locked out, the General Council is prepared to enter into arrangements for the distribution of essential food-stuffs.
"Should the Government desire to discuss the matter with the General Council they are available for that purpose.
"The General Council will be glad to learn your wishes in this respect.
"Walter M. Citrine."
I had arranged to keep in constant touch with the T.U.C., and to be at my office ready to give any information that was needed. To my surprise and alarm I heard quite by accident, on Saturday evening, at about 9 p.m., that the Negotiating Committee of the T.U.C. were closeted in Downing Street with the Prime Minister.
I could feel no other than apprehension, seeing I had not been informed, and they were there presumably discussing the miners' case in the absence of the miners' representatives. It was not jealousy that prompted my suspicions, but my responsibility to my President, Herbert Smith, and to my colleagues, and to the million men in the British coalfields.
I learnt at about 2-30 a.m. on Sunday morning, from a telephone conversation with Mr. Citrine, some little of what had taken place, and later, on May 2nd, I attended at Eccleston Square, to discover further the real facts concerning the meeting. I was then asked by the T.U.C. to call my Committee immediately to London—which I did.
That day I shall never forget. The Negotiating Committee called me before them, and informed me that they had been discussing a formula which they had accepted, as follows:—
"The Prime Minister has satisfied himself as a result of the conversations he has had with the representatives of the Trades Union Congress, that if negotiations are continued (it being understood that the notices cease to be operative), the representatives of the Trades Union Congress are confident that a settlement could be reached on the lines of the Report within a fortnight."
It must be clearly understood that this formula meant a reduction of wages and district agreements—conditions against which the T.U.C. had themselves declared.
I vehemently protested first against the Negotiating Committee of the T.U.C. having discussions with the Prime Minister in the absence of the miners' representatives, and secondly against the acceptance of a formula which was contrary to the declared policy of the miners, contrary to the policy of the T.U.C. as expressed in their declarations of February 26th, and after, and contrary to the instructions given to the T.U.C. by the Union Conference of May 1st. With the Negotiating Committee I met the General Council. I learnt that arrangements had been made to meet the Prime Minister again during the day. When before the General Council I again made my protest on behalf of my colleagues and myself, pleading with them not to commit us to a policy in contradiction to the one agreed upon.
For the moment I will not write all that is so vivid in my mind of what took place, but the statements of Bromley and Thomas I shall never forget.
One of these statements demanded clearly and definitely that the miners accept the Commission's report with full consciousness that it meant a reduction in wages. Both urged that they had had to accept reductions in wages, and the miners would have to do the same.
We did have some friends who will yet, I am sure, prove themselves true friends of the miners, and I left the meeting without a decision being arrived at in my presence. I have not yet learnt whether the whole General Council arrived at a decision to accept that formula. I left, believing that they would not meet the Prime Minister again without the miners' representatives.
My colleagues arrived—as many as possible—on Sunday evening—practically the majority of the Executive—when I informed them of what had taken place, and my President and Committee unanimously endorsed my action.
I had my second surprise when, ’phoning to Eccleston Square on the arrival of my colleagues, I learnt that the whole General Council was at Downing Street, with Messrs. Ramsay MacDonald and J.H. Thomas. I further learnt from other sources that a small sub-committee were meeting the Prime Minister and his colleagues. I believe this sub-committee consisted of Mr. Pugh, Mr. Citrine, and Mr. J. H. Thomas. This again created in the minds of myself and my colleagues a great deal of apprehension. We waited some time at Russell Square until we were informed about 11 o'clock that we were wanted at once at Downing Street.
We arrived there to find the whole General Council with the Negotiating Committee. Immediately Mr. Pugh, the chairman, placed before us certain questions that they had been discussing, seeking our opinion in regard to certain formulæ, all of which would commit us to reductions in wages. Again Herbert Smith, our president, with no uncertain voice made it quite clear to the General Council that the miners were not prepared to resume work on a reduction of wages or any other sacrifices.
It transpired that during that Sunday evening, while the small sub-committee were meeting the Prime Minister and his colleagues in private, a formula had been drafted as follows:—
"We will urge the miners to authorise us to enter upon a discussion with the understanding that they and we accept the Report as the basis of a settlement, and we approach it with the knowledge that it may involve some reduction of wages."
No shorthand notes were taken at this meeting. But this Committee cannot deny that such a formula was drafted and was accepted at least by Mr. J. H. Thomas. I have been informed that it was also placed before the General Council that evening, and that they instructed their Chairman, Mr. Pugh, to try to get the miners to accept it.
The report of the debate in the House of Commons (Hansard for May 4th), throws a great deal of light on this formula. The Chairman of the T.U.C. and Mr. Thomas made it quite clear that what they had been discussing with the Prime Minister did mean a reduction of wages. Here again we find certain representatives of the T.U.C. willing to give up the line of policy agreed to by the whole movement.
That formula definitely declared in favour of a reduction of wages for the miners. Thus we saw some Labour leaders agreeing with the Government that the miners' wages must be reduced.
While this discussion was going on a letter was handed to the T.U.C. as follows:—
"His Majesty's Government believe that no solution of the difficulties in the coal industry which is both practicable and honourable to all concerned can be reached except by sincere acceptance of the Report of the Commission.
"If the miners or the Trade Union Committee on their behalf, were prepared to say plainly that they accepted this proposal, the Government would have been ready to resume the negotiations, and to continue the subsidy for a fortnight.
"But since the discussions which have taken place between Ministers and members of the T.U. Committee, it has come to the knowledge of the Government not only that specific instructions have been sent (under the authority of the Executive of Trade Unions represented at the Conference convened by the General Council of the T.U.C.), asking their members in several of the most vital industries and services of the country to carry out a General Strike on Tuesday next, but that overt acts have already taken place, including gross interference with the freedom of the Press.
"Such action involved a challenge to the Constitutional rights and freedom of the nation.
"His Majesty's Government, therefore, before it can continue negotiations, must require from the T.U. Committee both a repudiation of the actions referred to that have already taken place, and an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the instructions for a General Strike."
This created consternation among many of the General Council, and some of them were ready to immediately disown or to protest against the action of the "Daily Mail" printers. The Negotiating Committee were instructed by the General Council to again see the Prime Minister to explain to him the position, etc., but they found that he had retired. And we were politely informed that our presence was undesirable as everybody had retired, so at midnight or just after we left Downing Street for Eccleston Square, where J. H. Thomas by my side told a pressman "That the Government had declared war"; and he said to me "We must now, Cook, fight for our lives."
As is now well-known, the T.U.C.'s reply to the Prime Minister's letter breaking off negotiations ran as follows:—
"Your letter of the 3rd inst., announcing the Government's decision to terminate the discussion which had been resumed on Saturday night was received by the General Council with surprise and regret.
"The negotiations which had taken place between the Industrial Committee of the T.U.C. and representatives of the Cabinet had been adjourned for a brief period in order to allow the Industrial Committee to confer with the Full General Council and representatives of the Miners' Federation, who were on your premises, in order to advance the efforts which the Industrial Committee had persistently been making to accomplish a speedy and honourable settlement of the mining dispute.
"The Trade Union representatives were astounded to learn that without any warning the renewed conversations, which it was hoped might pave the way to the opening up of full and unfettered negotiations, had been abruptly terminated by the Government for the reason stated in your communication.
"The first reason given was that specific instructions have been sent under the authority of Trade Unions represented at the Conference convened by the General Council of the T.U.C., directing their members in several industries and services to cease work.
"I am directed to remind you that there is nothing unusual for workmen to cease work in defence of their interests as wage-earners, and that the specific reason for the decision in this case is to secure for the mineworkers the same right from the employers as is insisted upon by employers from workers, namely, that negotiations shall be conducted free from the atmosphere of strike or lock-out. This is the principle which Governments have held to be cardinal in the conduct of industrial negotiations.
"With regard to the second reason, that ’overt acts have already taken place, including gross interference with the freedom of the Press,' it is regretted that no information is contained in your letter.
"The General Council had no knowledge of any such acts having occurred, and the decision taken by them definitely forbade any such independent and unauthorised action.
The Council are not aware of the circumstances under which the alleged acts have taken place. It cannot accept any responsibility for them, and is taking prompt measures to prevent any acts of indiscipline.
"The Council regret that they were not given an opportunity to investigate and deal with the alleged incidents before the Government made them an excuse for breaking off the peace discussions which were proceeding.
"The public will judge of the Government's intentions by its precipitous and calamitous decision in this matter, and we deplore with the General Council that the sincere work which the Council has been engaged in to obtain an honourable settlement has been wrecked by the Government's unprecedented ultimatum.
Walter M. Citrine."
The T.U.C. also made preparations with J. R. MacDonald and Arthur Henderson to have the question discussed in the House of Commons. (I have failed to inform my readers, previously, that the T.U.C. had decided to co-opt two representatives of the Labour Party, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Henderson, to attend all meetings of the General Council). On Monday evening the Prime Minister made a statement, which was replied to by Mr. J. H. Thomas and Mr. Ramsay McDonald. I need only refer readers to Hansard, of May 3rd, where in a verbatim report of the speeches of Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Thomas they will be able to judge for themselves the attitude of these leaders. No word of defiance to the Government; no attack on the Government for acting on behalf of the coal owners, for trying to reduce wages and lengthen hours. (How could they attack the Government for this, when they were playing the same part themselves?). No encouragement to the rank and file to stand by the miners; no advance of the miners' claim for a living wage, but the most humiliating crawling and pleading such as has never before been witnessed.
I appeal to all readers to purchase Hansard for May 3rd. This report in Hansard will prove far better than any words of mine the attitude adopted by the leaders of the Labour Party during the greatest struggle ever undertaken by a section of the workers for the right to live.
Thus, J. H. Thomas, trying to show how "peaceloving" the General Council had been, said: "We wanted to stop week-end speeches … I did not want any speeches from the miners' side, because it might have rendered it more difficult to get peace. The suggestion we made was deliberately designed for the purpose of creating the right atmosphere."
Thomas did not mention my name, but everyone understood he was referring to my campaign amongst the miners and other workers urging them to prepare against the capitalist offensive. This was the way Thomas was speaking to the bitterest enemies of the working class, at a time when a million miners had already been locked out.
Later in the same speech, Thomas appealed to the capitalist members of Parliament "to avert what I believe is the greatest calamity for this country." He was referring (in advance) to that magnificent General Strike which will go down to history as the greatest effort of organised labour!
At the very moment when he knew the Government had all its strike-breaking plans prepared and even preparation to use the Constitution against the workers, when he knew that the General Strike was being represented as "an attack on the Constitution," Thomas was presenting the Tories with free arguments and giving away the workers' revolver by saying: "I have never disguised that in a challenge to the Constitution, God help us unless the Government won!"
Then J. R. MacDonald made one of the most sickening speeches in the history of the House of Commons. He spoke in superior tones of the miners' fight against wage reductions, longer hours and district settlements as a "dogma"; he assured the Prime Minister tearfully that the General Council had spent hours in private trying to persuade the miners, "striving to get security, to get confidence, to get people to believe in each other." He had the audacity to suggest that Herbert Smith was ready to accept even a reduction in wages as part of a settlement on the basis of the Coal Commission's Report, and calling it "a great contribution to peace"; and finally he declared to the assembled Capitalist M.P.'s "with the discussion of general strikes and Bolshevism and all that kind of thing, I have nothing to do at all. I respect the Constitution as much as Sir Robert Horne."
What a speech for the Leader of the Labour Party on the eve of a General Strike!
Despite all the humiliating pleadings of these leaders, despite the attempts behind the Speaker's chair of Mr. MacDonald and J. H. Thomas to arrive at a settlement behind the backs of the miners' representatives, the Prime Minister and the Government remained adamant, determined that the strike notices should be withdrawn before negotiations could be re-opened. No lifting of the lock-out; no securing a living wage for the miners was thought of; and midnight on Monday, 3rd May, arrived with no alternative but for the workers to act on their decision of May 1st.
This ends the second chapter. The Executives of the unions had given the General Council definite instructions. The General Council had pledged themselves to action, and the Executive members had gone back to prepare, in the short time left to them, for carrying out that action. Meanwhile, the Negotiating Committee of the T.U.C. had twice seen the Government in secret, in spite of their pledge to the miners only to negotiate together with them; they had twice tried to get the miners to accept formulæ which would have meant reductions in wages, in spite of their declared opposition to reductions. No other facts are needed to show the state of mind in which some members of the General Council faced the test of real action.
Tuesday, May 4th, started with the workers answering the call. What a wonderful response! What loyalty!! What solidarity!!! From John O'Groats to Land's End the workers answered the call to arms to defend us, to defend the brave miner in his fight for a living wage.
THE STRIKE BEGINS.
Hurriedly the General Council formed their Committees, made preparations to face this colossal task—the first in the history of this country.
No one could over estimate the greatness of the task that faced the General Council, and to the credit of many of the members—especially Ernest Bevin—they made every effort possible to bring into being machinery to cope with the requirements.
Unfortunately for the miners, Mr. Tom Richards, one of our representatives on the General Council, was too ill to attend; while Mr. Robert Smillie, our other representative (who, I may say, valiantly supported me on Sunday, May 2nd, before the General Council), had on Monday, May 3rd, left for Scotland, believing, I presume, that his presence was necessary among his own folk, and expecting his colleagues on the T.U.C. to continue the struggle in a straight and honourable way.
Thus the miners were left during these nine days—heroic in the fighting field and tragic in the Council—without any representation on the Council. Our President and Treasurer, and myself—the three miners' officials—were allowed to attend the meetings in the same capacity as Mr. McDonald and Mr. Henderson. I appealed to the Council to allow two of our representatives to be co-opted for the time being, but this request was refused, and was most vehemently opposed by the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas. We were not allowed to take part or to vote on any of the decisions.
It would not only be an education to the workers, but it would be material that could guide us in our future struggles if a verbatim report could be printed of all that took place. Unfortunately it was decided that no shorthand notes should be taken. So I am afraid the full truth will never be told.
The difficulties of transport, of communication, of giving information, was enormous; but the foresight and energy of the officials in the country and of the rank and file rose to the occasion. Links were formed, bulletins were issued; officials, staff and voluntary workers of the T.U.C. and the Labour Party worked night and day to create the machinery necessary to link up the whole movement—machinery that would have been prepared by common-sense leadership months and months before.
It was a wonderful achievement, a wonderful accomplishment that proved conclusively that the Labour Movement has the men and women that are capable in an emergency of providing the means of carrying on the country. Who can forget the effect of motor conveyances with posters saying: "By Permission of the T.U.C.?" The Government with its O.M.S. were absolutely demoralised. Confidence, calm, and order prevailed everywhere, despite the irritation caused by the volunteers, black-legs, and special constables. The workers acted as one. Splendid discipline! Splendid loyalty!
Then the question is asked: "Why was the strike called off?"
I have kept a daily diary of events which I hope some day to publish more fully. For the moment I only desire to print these facts to encourage the workers to press forward still, despite the failings, the treachery of some individuals.
There are, I am aware, on the General Council a number of men and women whose only object was to serve the best interests of the miners, who worked night and day to that end. But they were guided in their final decisions by the Negotiating Committee, of whom J. H. Thomas was the determining voice.
The miners' representatives learnt that individuals had been meeting both the Negotiating Committee and that the Parliamentary Labour leaders had been in private discussing with notable individuals.
Enters on the scene the Chairman of the Coal Commission, Sir Herbert Samuel. He had returned post haste to England from abroad. Whether he was sent for or whether he returned voluntarily, I do not know, but the fact, nevertheless, remains that as soon as he arrived in England he was seen by the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas and others, and discussions began in private. Those who had been unwilling and hesitant to go into the strike were continually seeking some way out of it.
These discussions were held simply with a view to creating some pretext to justify calling off the General Strike. That is my opinion based on facts as I have seen them.
On Sunday, May 9th, it was quite evident that these discussions and pow-wows had reached a stage when the Negotiating Committee and the leaders of the Labour Party felt that something tangible had been secured to justify a move towards calling off the General Strike.
Discussions, especially with Thomas and Bromley, were such as to lead me to that conclusion; and we were again pressed by certain individuals to consider proposals for a reduction of wages. Attempts were being made by the Negotiating Committee of the T.U.C., to draft new formulæ—to use the expression of our President, Herbert Smith, "To provide a new suit of clothes for the same body."
Here I must again declare my pride of our President, Herbert Smith, who, in his own Yorkshire dialect, defended the miners' case heroically. Every one of my Committee felt proud of the determined stand of our President, who did not mince his words, but spoke straight and to the point. Some of the members of the General Council will never forget Herbert Smith!
It did seem terrible that we had to fight, not only the Government and the coalowners, but certain Labour leaders as well. However, Herbert Smith was not made of the stuff that could be intimidated. The more they attacked him the stronger he became, and whatever may be the consequences or the results of our struggle, I shall ever remember the stand made by Herbert Smith, which should lead every miner to revere him to the end of his days.
Whatever Herbert Smith may not be able to do, nobody can charge him with not being able to fight clean and straight for the men that he has so ably represented.
May 9th, 10th and 11th were days of numerous meetings. There were long discussions in the T.U.C. There were also numerous meetings between the T.U.C. Negotiating Committee and Sir Herbert Samuel.
On Monday evening, the 10th, proposals were drafted, accepted by the Negotiating Committee, and placed before the full Executive of the Miners' Federation. They were amended and sent back to the T.U.C., but rejected by them.
Tuesday, 11th, again several meetings. All these in our absence. Only once were we called over to see Sir Herbert Samuel, on Monday, 10th, when our President, myself and Mr. Richardson made our position quite clear. Nevertheless the T.U.C. Negotiating Committee continued in their feverish desire to lift the General Strike without securing protection for the miners. And, as has since been learnt, without even securing protection for their own members against victimisation.
On Tuesday morning the Miners' Executive met and reviewed the position in various Districts. With the knowledge that these negotiations were going on behind our backs, the Executive determined nevertheless that it would stand fast by its colours.
It is characteristic of the difficulties we were contending with, that, although I issued to the Press a statement embodying our viewpoint (I was obliged to do this to contradict a lying story circulated by a Press Agency) in the afternoon, and even the scab capitalist press all printed it, no mention appeared in the workers' own official, the British Worker!
At 8 o'clock on Tuesday evening the whole of my colleagues—the full Committee—were called before the General Council and informed by the chairman that a unanimous decision had been arrived at. Proposals had been received from Sir Herbert Samuel and agreed upon by the Negotiating Committee of the General Council.
In a long speech, Mr. Pugh solemnly and seriously declared that the General Council had decided that these proposals must be accepted by the miners' representatives as a basis for negotiations, and that they would call off the strike. They had guarantees that satisfied them that the Government would accept these proposals, and that on the strike being withdrawn the lock-out notices also would be withdrawn, and the miners should return to work on the status quo (with, of course, a reduction in wages to come after resumption of work). We were told these proposals were unalterable, could not be amended, that we had to accept them en bloc as this was the unanimous decision of the T.U.C.
Mr. Pugh was continually pressed and questioned by Mr. Herbert Smith, myself, and my colleagues as to what the guarantees mentioned were, and who had given them. We got no answer. But J.H. Thomas said to me personally, when I asked him whether the Government would accept the Samuel proposals and what were his guarantees: "You may not trust my word, but will you not accept the word of a British gentleman who has been Governor of Palestine?"
Our President, myself and my colleagues put several other questions; asking what was the position of other workers in regard to the unanimous decision arrived at that we should all return to work together, to protect one another from victimisation, and to secure a return by all workers on the same conditions as when they left. We were informed that "That was all right." We continually pressed this point, when J. H. Thomas replied: "I have seen to it that the members of the railways will be protected"—the inference being that we need not trouble to meddle with the business of other unions.
I will allow the railwaymen to now judge whether the "protection" given them had any real existence.
Herbert Smith made our position quite clear, and again courageously faced the General Council, knowing well what the consequences might be.
What was the situation with which we were confronted? Before myself and my colleagues an abyss had opened. It was the culmination of days and days of faint heartedness. It had begun even before the General Strike with the attempt to use this magnificent expression of working-class solidarity as a mere bluff—albeit, gigantic bluff.
To prevent that bluff being called they had been prepared (on Saturday and Sunday and Monday, from the 1st to 3rd of May) to give away all the T.U.C. had stood for. They had been prepared to force us to retreat in order that they might carry out the retreat they longed for. When the truculence of the Tory Cabinet thrust them willy nilly into the General Strike they had not ceased in their endeavour to "smooth it over."
Only a few days of magnificent working class effort had passed before they were once more trying to get a peace at any price. Then, gradually, an incredible thing happened. They began to win over one after another of their colleagues on the G.C. Bit by bit the process of "persuading" the others went on until the situation of complete surrender had been reached, the situation with which we were now faced. It was more than a surrender on their part. It was an ultimatum to us as miners, bidding us surrender, too!
We decided to adjourn as a committee to a room in the Labour Party offices next door, to consider the position, and the following resolution was arrived at:—
"The Miners' Executive have given careful and patient consideration to the draft proposals prepared by the T.U.C. Negotiating Committee and endorsed by the General Council as representing 'the best terms which can be obtained to settle the present crisis in the Coal Industry.'
They regret the fact that no opportunity for consideration was afforded the accredited representatives of the Miners' Federation on the Negotiating Committee in the preparation of the draft or in the discussion of May 11th leading thereto.
"At best, the proposals imply a reduction of the wages rates of a large number of mineworkers, which is contrary to the repeated declarations of the Miners' Federation, and which they believe their fellow Trade Unionists are assisting them to resist.
"They regret therefore, whilst having regard to the grave issues involved, that they must reject the proposals. Moreover, if such proposals are submitted as a means to call off the General Strike such a step must be taken on the sole responsibility of the General Council."
This resolution was taken to the General Council just after midnight on Tuesday, 11th. We had not then been informed that arrangements had been made to meet the Prime Minister that night, and that a telephonic communication had been sent through from Downing Street, asking Mr. Citrine "when the Negotiating Committee would be done." That I learnt from other quarters, but is nevertheless a fact which cannot be denied.
But owing to the attitude of the miners, who refused to swallow the decision of the General Council—believing that there were not sufficient guarantees to secure the protection of our men, and also with the knowledge that the Samuel proposals meant reductions in wages for our men—no meeting with the Prime Minister took place that evening.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, after passing our resolution, we left them. We were tired and weary, almost disheartened and dejected, but firm in our conviction that we had done the right thing and remained loyal and honourable to the trust placed in our hands by the million miners and their dependents; and also believing that the whole rank and file of our movement were out in defence of the miners' standard of living.
Nothing has taken place since to change that attitude.
Wednesday, May 12th, at 10 a.m., the Miners' Committee met—we had informed the General Council of that. Another episode I shall never forget. When leaving the Council Chamber, Ramsay MacDonald approached me and asked if he could come to see us and help us in this business as this "was a tragic blunder." I replied: "No, you have already taken your stand in appealing to us to consider reductions and the full acceptance of the Samuel Report, which meant reductions. That has been your attitude throughout, and we do not want you to come to our meeting."
At the hotel where I was staying, the National Hotel, I received a message on Wednesday morning saying that the officials were required at Eccleston Square. My colleagues and myself did not go, but attended our Executive, and I was later informed that a deputation was attending from the General Council. The following members of the General Council came, Pugh, Purcell, Walker, Bevin, Ben Turner, and Rowan, with two others.
They placed before my Committee the decision that had been arrived at by the General Council after we had left them. The decision was that they had arranged to meet the Prime Minister at 12 o'clock that day to call off the General Strike on the basis of the Samuel Proposals, as they believed there were sufficient guarantees, etc. They appealed to the miners to throw in their lot with them and join them in that decision.
After several questions and discussions—again concerning securities and guarantees, etc., the Miners' Executive arrived at the following conclusion:—
"That having heard the report of the representatives of the T.U.C., we reaffirm our resolution of May 11th, and express our profound admiration of the wonderful demonstration of loyalty as displayed by all workers who promptly withdrew their labour in support of the miners' standards, and undertake to report fully to a Conference to be convened as early as practicable."
I informed Mr. Bevin and the representatives of this, and they left the office at 11-45 a.m. for Downing Street.
This is all we know of the tragic decision, arrived at in our absence, to call off the General Strike. The verbatim report of the interview with the Prime Minister speaks for itself. No statement seemed to have been made by anyone except Bevin regarding the raising of the lock-out and the protection of our men. It seemed that the only desire of some leaders was to call off the General Strike at any cost, without any guarantees for the workers, miners, or others.
By this action of theirs, in "turning off the power," the miners were left alone in their struggle.
A few days longer and the Government and the capitalist class, financiers, parasites and exploiters, would have been compelled to make peace with the miners. We should thus have secured in the mining industry a settlement which would have redounded to the honour and credit of the British Labour Movement, and would have been a fitting reward for the solidarity displayed by the workers.
They threw away the chance of a victory greater than any British Labour has ever won.
That is the history of the Nine Days which gave an unexampled display of the solidarity of the workers. It is quite evident that some of the T.U.C. were afraid of the power they had created; were anxious to keep friends with the Government, and not to harm the employing class. They did not understand the task—at least a great many of them did not—and there were others who were determined to sabotage the General Strike to justify their repeated declarations, "that it would not succeed."
First they declared the rank and file would not respond to a sympathetic strike. Then after the rank and file had responded they continued to try and prove that it would not succeed.
They are still trying to prove it, but while some leaders have declared "Never again," and others have tried to say—as the leader of the Labour Party did in "Answers"—that the strike is a useless weapon, those of us who saw the shattering effect it had on British capitalism and the stride forward in solidarity made by our own people realise that the General Strike did not fail.
Since May 12th we have been left to continue our struggle alone—but not alone, as the rank and file are still with us. They did not let us down. Our bus-men, car-men, rail-men, and dock-men, men from the desks—pens laid aside—printers and pressmen, engineers and electricity men form the rank and file. All joined together with one motto: "Solidarity for Ever—and Capitalism defied!"
As miners we thank them. For us they refused to bend; for us they struck our rights to defend. With such support our cause will not fail, for we all believe right will in the end prevail.
So ended the Nine Days of Labour's united struggle. We still continue, believing that the whole rank and file will help us all they can. We appeal for financial help wherever possible, and that our comrades will still refuse to handle coal so that we may yet secure victory for the miners' wives and children who will live to thank the rank and file of the Unions of Great Britain. We hope still that those leaders of the T.U.C. who feel that a mistake has been made will rally to our cause and help us to victory.