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Spring 1926 (Age 51)

“Tomorrow, Magnanimity”

Churchill played no part in the Baldwin government’s negotiations with the miners and the coal owners which led to the General Strike of 1926. The coal owners locked out the miners on Saturday, 1 May 1926 after the miners had again rejected a proposal for an immediate reduction in wages. A national strike in support of the miners was announced for Monday, 3 May. Government negotiations continued with both sides on Sunday, 2 May, until 11 PM, when word came that printers at The Daily Mail had stopped its publication because they did not approve of the lead editorial critical of the impending strike. Baldwin believed that a national strike was an unconstitutional attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy and, in response, he broke off negotiations, a move that received the unanimous support of the Cabinet.

The next day, Churchill spoke in conciliatory fashion in the House, acknowledging that the miners had a legitimate right to strike: “But that is an entirely different thing from the concerted, deliberate organized menace of a General Strike in order to compel Parliament to do something which other wise it would not do.” Churchill said that once the threat of a national strike is withdrawn, “we shall immediately begin, with the utmost care and patience with them again, the long and laborious task which has been pursued over these many weeks of endeavouring to rebuild on economic foundations the prosperity of the coal trade. That is our position.”

The strike commenced on 4 May and Baldwin diverted Churchill to the secondary role of supervising publication of a daily government newspaper, The British Gazette. The first issue of the paper came out on 5 May and Churchill wrote the leading, unsigned, article on the front page in which he explained why a government newspaper was necessary during the strike: “Nearly all the newspapers have been silenced by violent concerted action. And this great nation, on the whole the strongest community which civilisation can show, is for the moment reduced in this respect to the level of African natives dependent only on the rumours which are carried from place to place.”

The first issue of The British Gazette printed a total of only 230,000 copies but six days later, the last day of the General Strike, over a million copies were printed and distributed. Churchill wrote that day to Baldwin offering his advice on how to proceed next: “The point to which I wish to draw your mind is that there must be a clear interval between the calling off of the General Strike and the resumption of the coal negotiations. The first tonight ‹the second tomorrow. But noth-ing simultaneous and concurrent. That will I am sure be fatal….Tonight surrender. Tomorrow magnanimity….”

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