Edward Balne (b. 1895) Politics, Protest & Class – Writing Lives

Edward Balne (b. 1895) Politics, Protest & Class

The General Strike of 1926 began on 3rd May at one minute to midnight. It was called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and lasted ten days. The number of strikers was huge – on 4th May there were 1.5-1.7 strikers across the country, and as such it was the first of its kind. It was in the end unsuccessful as the Conservative British Government of the time under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the TUC did not manage to come to an agreement.

Some miners remained unemployed, and those who did go back to work had to endure longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements.

General Strike 1926, credit unknown.

Balne writes:

1926 was of course the year of the General Strike. In those days ‘Pickets’ did not operate so widely and efficiently as they do today, otherwise the Nations baseness in 1926 could have been brought to a full stop. As it was, businessmen, volunteers and others worked in the (Redways?) as Drivers and Conductors, at Smithfield in the meat market and in the Docks etc. thus blunting the edge of the strike weapon. The miners who started it all were, in the end, almost starved into surrender.

Balne, p111-2.

It seems obvious that Balne sympathized with the miners, making it clear the actions taken against the miners was wrong and of bad character. He other than this hasn’t any particular thoughts on the political side of the discussion. It seems from this extract that the miners were left without any work at all. The country was in sense completely against what the miners were trying to achieve – the working classes were being cut out of working in every way. Their organisation was poor, as they looked to their trade unions to look after tham and hadn’t the confidence, as it were, to take their issues into their own hands. Balne seems to feel they were on the side of right. His earlier thoughts on the status of the working classes of England are as follows:

The late nineteenth century and the first fourteen years of the twentieth (century are – crossed out) was not a period enjoyed by the poorest members of this ancient land. They (the poor) were at a great disadvantage from an educational point of view, and had no social standing whatsoever. The most menial and erdest working labouring jobs plus long long hours at work were their lot and at wages which today would cause a riot.

So called homes were hovels and hardly fit for dogs to live in. And the majority, if not all of these wretched men and women suffered from malnutrition. It is little wonder that the death toll among such people was very high indeed.

The general strike of 1926 was in part due to the fact wages had been halved over the course of a mere seven years. Starvation and malnutrition were still very real worries of the late 19th/early 20th centuries – the threat of the workhouse and dependency upon the state was not something the poor would ever treat as anything but a last resort – however hard a life outside of the workhouse, it was worse to give in and give up independence.

 – more information on the General Strike.

– a link to the Journal of Social History, Vol 45, No. 3, “The Law Has No Feeling For Poor Folks Like Us!” Everyday responses to legal compulsion in England’s Working-Class Communities, 1871-1904 by Sascha Auerbach.

Balne, Edward, ‘Autobiography of an ex-Workhouse and Poor Law School Boy’, MS, pp 175 (c.27,000 words). Brunel University Library.

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