|April 1926||The miners are faced with wage cuts in the spring of 1926 after the publication of the Samuel Report recommending the removal of government subsidies for coalmines. The miners go on strike. The National Minority Movement begins organising for solidarity action.|
|May 1926||The TUC calls a General Strike beginning on May 3rd 1926, to an initially great show of solidarity. One and a half million people answer the call. Public transport, heavy industry and printing presses are crippled, whilst docks reject cargoes. |
The Government is well prepared for this confrontation. Propaganda is wheeled out by the Government on wireless and paper to depict the violent and bitter conflict as a revolution. A special constabulary consisting of young men in commerce, retired Indian Army colonels, students and unemployed salesmen takes to the streets to curb 'unrest.'
This is no revolution - evident by the confusion and lack of leadership from the TUC, who have no idea of the direction the strike should take. With the antipathy of the general public, the TUC feel forced to seek any kind of settlement. After 9 days the TUC leadership accept a vague "agreement" which fails to meet the strikers' demands. It is now that the TUC confirm their earlier realisation that their main hope of securing decent conditions for their workers is through a strong Labour Party.
Though not for want of trying, as the official Opposition, the Labour Party achieves minimal success in its attempt to wield political influence throughout the strike. With the odds so stacked against working people in centres of power, to have attempted the overthrow of the government by strikers would probably be suicidal of the Trades Union Congress. So gradualism is established as the guiding tenet of the trade unions. After all, most of the leaders are useless revolutionaries.
|December 1926||Trade union funds have dropped by 4 million pounds since the start of the year. The backlash against trade unionists around the country is vicious, with unofficial blacklists and open discrimination against trades unions.|
|December 1927||The end of another disastrous year for the labour movement. Membership of unions has fallen by more than half a million. The two Acts - The Trades Disputes Act and the Trades Unions Act - outlaw general strikes and sympathy strikes. They also attack Labour Party funding by requiring trades unionists to "opt-in" to payment of the political levy.|
|May 1929||Despite the Conservative and business attacks on the labour movement, Labour becomes the biggest single party for the first time with 287 seats - yet still short of an overall majority. It was from here that the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party become increasingly detached from each other. Ramsey MacDonald drops both Wheatley and Jowett from the front bench as a world economic crisis looms and MacDonald heads for the middle ground of British politics. The new Cabinet includes the first woman to reach Cabinet rank - Margaret Bloomfield, an outstanding trades union activist. She's given the red hot potato of the time - that of Minister of Labour.|
|October 1929||An enormous crash in the price of stocks on Wall Street leads to chronic deflation and a world economic slump, as conventional economics fails to explain the inability of the market to correct itself.|
|May 1930||Philip Snowden is an orthodox Chancellor convinced of the Gold Standard and Free Trade, and the overvalued pound this implies. Progressive economic ideas are confined to the Liberal Party, the ILP and a few Labour backbenchers. Unemployment is now at 20%.|
|August 1931||After having further depressed the British economy, presided over reduced wages and been powerless to prevent two million people being dumped onto the dole, the proposed cuts in unemployment benefit are too much for some of the Cabinet to bear. Whilst Oswald Mosley proposes import controls and domestic reflation, MacDonald's government seems in a state of paralysis. |
The feeling in the party is such that MacDonald feels he can not continue. Acknowledging this, he collects everybody's resignation and goes off to see the King. He announces the next day that he is to form a National Government with the Tories and Liberals.
Despite MacDonald's central role in building the inter-war Labour Party, it is for these actions that he is remembered. On the same day MacDonald announces his National Government, MacDonald's former cabinet colleagues, union leaders and party officers hold a 'Council of War' at Transport House and declare their intention to go into opposition.
|October 1931||One of the bitterest elections in history follows, with National accusing the Labour Party of left-wing extremism. Labour is smashed in the polls. Its vote falls by two million, its seats reduced from 289 to 46. With a diminished Parliamentary force, much grassroots resistance to the effects of the Depression is to come from Communist-backed organisations such as the National Unemployed Workers Movement.|
Just three ex-Cabinet Ministers survive - the senior figure of George Lansbury, with Stafford Cripps and Clement Attlee. With a truncated PLP led by Lansbury, the Labour Party is taken back into the effective control of the unions, as has happened at times of low ebb since. Ernest Bevin of the Transport Workers Union is to become the predominant guiding force in the labour movement.
|October 1932||Ramsey MacDonald sees his National Coalition reduced by the gradual withdrawal of the increasingly Keynesian Liberals into opposition. His health suffers under the attacks from his old colleagues in the Labour movement as it becomes increasingly clear he is being used as a puppet by the Conservatives.
This is a terrible period for Britain's industrial heartlands, with over 60% out of work in Merthyr and over 80% in Dowlais.
|June 1935||Ramsey MacDonald is edged out of leadership of the Conservative-National government in favour of Baldwin.|
|October 1935||In a politically tumultuous time as this, foreign affairs increasingly demands attention. Hitler and Mussolini's rise to power poses difficulties for a Labour Party that still remembers the First World War. Italy's invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 prompts Ernest Bevin to totally demolish the veteran pacifist George Lansbury at Party Conference. Shaken, Lansbury resigns, to be eventually succeeded by Clem Attlee.|
|November 1935||Ramsey MacDonald loses his seat in 1935 to the venerable Emanuel Shinwell, by a majority of over 2 to 1. Labour improve their vote, capturing 154 seats under the caretaker leadership of Clement Attlee.|