Postcard showing John Bird, 1926

This postcard shows John Bird (1896-1964), a miners' leader, trade unionist, and communist councillor in Fife for many years. The postcard dates from the time of the General Strike.

Postcard of John Bird on horse

General Strike

The General Strike took place from 4-12 May 1926 following several years of industrial unrest. Following the First World War, the coal industry in Britain faced economic problems.

The pit owners attempted to enforce wage cuts and longer working hours. Miners who did not agree to these new terms were locked out of the pit and unable to work. By the spring of 1926, the militant miners' union, led nationally by A J Cook, had gained the support of other key industries.

In Scotland, transport was one of the first public services to be affected with train services halted across the country. The ports were deserted, and the print workers went on strike in large numbers affecting the production of newspapers.The strike lasted nine days, and the miners continued their campaign for several months after that time.

Public disorder

During the strike, the Scottish Office and the Lord Advocate set up an Emergency Organisation to manage civil unrest. Scotland was divided into five main regions, and officials in each area were given the power to call on the police or the army to deal with local disturbances.

Prominent miners' leader

In the postcard image, John Bird, a prominent miners' leader in Bowhill, Fife, is shown dressed as a special constable, or volunteer police officer. The Fife mineworkers can be seen in the background, behind the wall. The image is intended to be ironic, and highlights the tension between the strikers and the law enforcers at this time.

To find out more about John Bird's involvement with the Bowhill pit and the local strike in 1920, go to the promissory note page.

Suggested discussion points

  • Strike action often results in the disruption of public services. Do you think that this is a price worth paying for improving working conditions for employees in service industries?
  • The 1920 strike at the Bowhill pit focused on issues relating to wages and working hours. What do you consider to be the key rights for workers today? What do you think are the main responsibilities of employers and employees?
  • Find some contemporary reports of strike action or threatened strike action in the local and national press. List some of the issues that workers are striking for. How do these compare with the issues that were central to the General Strike in 1926?
  • Going on strike is one way of campaigning for improved working conditions. Can you think of any other ways that workers might influence decisions about employment rights and conditions?

Labour history page

 


Find out more about labour history at NLS

We have the leading collection of research material relating to Scottish labour and trade union history.

 

Visit the Scottish Screen Archive to find films relating to Scottish industry from fishing and tweed-making to mining and agriculture.

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