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What It Was Like in ’26

Louie Davies

The last long strike of the miners was in 1926. My late husband, Bob Davies, was a Communist Party organizer at that time and he wrote a report outlining how the mine owners were trying to reduce the miners’ wages by up to 18/- a week in some districts. The miners refused to accept this and were locked out.

The coal pits then were owned by independent mineowners, and their usual tactic if profits weren’t high enough was to drop the miners’ wages. This threat of wage reductions had been in the offing for over a year. However, it was in April 1926 when the owners made the direct attack on miners’ wages. The miners had prepared for this, and discussed the matter within their union. A triple alliance had been set up to defend them, and if the miner was attacked, the railwaymen, led by Thomas, and other industries, would support them even up to a General Strike. This did happen, partially, but never really got off the ground. Councils of action were organised and transport was controlled to some extent, whilst the union leaders had talks on what to do. The “general strike" lasted nine days, and has been referred to as “Nine Days That Shook The World”.

I remember how it was here in Bolton. Although I was only seventeen and we hadn’t many colliers near where I lived. We, like everyone, went short of coal; we went to the meetings on the Town Hall steps, we marched to the Dole Office on Great Moor Street. In short, we joined in as many activities as we were able to do. Later, as the strike dragged on as long as six months, we went to get coal on the Raikes Slag-Heap off Manchester Road. One time when we were getting coal a small boy cut himself. To stop the flow of blood we called for help from a striking miner. He came to us with an old pay packet in his hand, stuck it on the boys leg, saying “This is a pay packet. It’s got so many stop pages in it’ll stop owt! ”. 1 should explain that when a miner got his pay packet there were stoppages for sharpening his own tools, his own shot, and a lot of other things so we saw this remark as a real joke.

My late husband Bob told me how at one pit near where he was living some blacklegs (or scabs, it’s the same thing) were leaving the pit and were given something extra for scabbing - a bag of coal. They left the pit carrying the bags on their back but when they went past some houses the women were waiting for them. They raided them - shouting “Scab! Scab!” - set about them, making them drop their load and run! As the women wore long aprons at the time they moved the coal quick as lightning, putting the coal in their pinnies. It was very funny to see the way the scabs dropped their loads leaving women to get the better of them. It was a great boost to the striking miners.

The tricks the coal owners got up to was terrible. They went to common lodging houses to collect men to pretend they were working miners - anything to get the men back. The miners stuck it for many months but poverty drove them back. It was very like the present day tricks of saying more and more miners are going back to work - a lot of lies.