ADVERTISER 150: How we reported East End’s part in the 1926 General Strike
PUBLISHED: 19:00 07 December 2016 | UPDATED: 20:51 08 December 2016
Our nightly lookback at some of the news the East London Advertiser has reported since 1866, marking our 150th anniversary this year, reaches 1926 and the effects the General Strike had on the East End. The strikers paralyse the London Docks, force closure of London Hospital Outpatients and hijack motorcars to hurl into the River Lea. Nowhere is safe...
1926: The East London Advertiser becomes a source of news for the public during the nine-day General Strike as daily newspapers are stopped when the Fleet Street presses are shut down by the TUC.
The calls for a general strike across the nation follows a miners’ dispute when mine owners cut wages in response to falling coal sales. All business is put on hold, but weekly newspapers like the Advertiser do a brisk trade as the nationals go out of print. The government proclaims a national State of Emergency and responds with its own temporary daily journal, The British Gazette, while the TUC counters with The British Worker.
We report on the London and the India & Millwall docks coming to a standstill. The Army is called in on May 3 to man the docks, with columns of troops marching down the Commercial Road and East India Dock Road to take over. But hundreds of cyclists block the road, hindering their route.
The strikers have their own march to keep the docks and factories closed, but are stopped in China Road—not by the police, but a flock of sheep and six cows crossing the street.
Motorists cash in by hiring out their cars. But by the second day of the Great Strike, many vehicles are hijacked by the crowd and overturned to make barricades, we report.
A Morris Cowley is burned out in East India Dock Road. Other vehicles are set alight in Poplar—some even thrown into the River Lea from the Iron Bridge at Canning Town.
Police can’t get reinforcements until midnight when a crowd of 2,000 gather by the Blackwall Tunnel. Mounted police eventually charge at them to disburse the mob, lashing out with batons. Many dockers are knocked down and some are treated at Poplar Hospital.
Traffic is held up by protesters and police have to fight through to reach a charabanc being besieged. Postmen trying to deliver the mail are set upon in Mile End Road by an angry crowd.
The London Hospital has to close its outpatients department because of electric power cuts when workers at Whitechapel’s Osborn Street generating station join the strike.
Stepney Town Hall distances itself when borough engineer WGP Tapper tells the Advertiser: “Stepney Council is not responsible for the power cut—it’s the result of union action.”
Volunteer drivers manning London General Omnibus Company’s carriage vehicles are being protected “by a policeman with drawn baton”.
Strikers who board London United tramway cars mob the volunteer drivers and dislodge the trolley poles.
Telephone and postal services are becoming congested. The public is advised to avoid sending telegrams or making telephone calls “unless of an urgent nature”.
But things quieten down on the third day when the Duke of Gloucester arrives at the People’s Palace in Mile End for a concert.
The government opens recruitment centres for volunteers to keep services running, including municipal offices such as Bethnal Green Guildhall (Town Hall), Hackney Public Library, Islington Old Town Hall and Stoke Newington Public Library, co-ordinated in London and Home Counties at the Ministry of Health in Whitehall with listed telephone numbers: Victoria 9817 (day) or Victoria 9800 (night).
The strike begins losing steam by the end of the week as 3,000 volunteers man the London Underground keeping trains running. Among passengers observed on board Metropolitan trains to Aldgate are many railway employees reporting for duty. The national railways are also getting back on track.
The East End which had been at the forefront backing the miners and bringing to docks to a standstill now plays a leading role in ending the inconclusive General Strike. Whitechapel’s Toynbee Hall settlement acts as a go-between hosting negotiations to bring the strike to an end.
The General Strike is over, though the miners hold out till November, but then find they’re working longer hours with lower pay and are often victimised by the mine bosses. The Government goes further with the 1927 Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act making all sympathetic strikes illegal and banning mass picketing.