70

3rd June, 1926

CONFIDENTIAL

(Due to arrive Melbourne-3.7.26)

My dear P.M.,

GENERAL STRIKE

Reference my LON. 357 [1] of last week. I now attach record of conversations with Mr. S. G. Tallents.

I am, Yours sincerely, R. G. CASEY

[Enclosure A]

GENERAL STRIKE

Record of conversations with S. G. Tallents, C.B., C.B.E., Secretary of the Supply and Transport Committee of the Cabinet.

He laid stress on the following as being of major importance in combatting a General Strike.

The adequate protection of vulnerable points such as power stations, petrol depots and dock warehouses is of first-class importance.

It so happens that in London the docks constitute a bottle neck through which special arrangements have got to be made for the passage of supplies. An organisation had to be evolved for unloading the ships, warehousing, loading on to convoys and escorting all essential foodstuffs.

The arrangements for safeguarding the supply of essential food to the people and ensuring against profiteering was facilitated by the fact that a large number of Government officials was familiar with the machinery of feeding the people by reason of their wartime experience.

The Trades Union Congress in the early days of the strike attempted to enforce a system of permits for attachment to vehicles containing food. This was thought by the T.U.C. to be a logical outcome of their statement that they did not propose to menace the country's food supply. The General Council wrote to the Prime Minister on 1st May formally offering 'to enter into arrangements for the distribution of essential foodstuffs'. The Government ignored this. These permits were never recognised by the Government and it is stressed that such presumption on the part of the Trades Unions should be strongly held out against.

The 'convoy' system was evolved by the strike. By this is meant the organisation of a convoy of 100 or so motor lorries (with guards on each lorry) escorted by armoured cars for protective purposes, the whole moving as a column from some central distribution point to the docks and returning to the distribution centre, e.g. Hyde Park.

The precaution was taken of sending destroyers and other warships to convenient ports in order that their crews could be available for emergency work in power stations and for general protection if required. Dynamos on submarines were used in London to supply power to work dock gates, etc. cut off from municipal or other supply.

The necessity for some form of Government newspaper arose from the stoppage of the Press. It is doubtful if the T.U.C. would repeat this as it damaged them severely. They suppressed the Daily Herald themselves as they feared 'reprisals' by the rest of the Press after the strike. The supply of paper for the Government newspaper has to be safeguarded.

Aircraft were used to a great extent for the distribution of the Government newspaper to distant parts of the country, and for the carriage of Government mails.

There were several means whereby the T.U.C. could have extended the scope of the strike, which would have created very considerable additional embarrassment for the Government. The first and probably the most important of these would have been the calling out of the postal, telegraph and telephone employees. The second additional menace would have been a determined attempt on the part of the strikers to impede road transport either by interference with petrol depots or by the successful menacing of drivers in towns and in the country, followed possibly by the blocking of essential roads.

The Civil Constabulary Reserve, based on units of the territorial army, materialised in the latter days of the strike. It never got properly into operation owing to the early termination of the strike. The men were enlisted for special duty from territorial units, and from amongst ex-soldiers who were known to the War Office to have a satisfactory record. They were raised with the assistance of the War Office who also made arrangements for housing and feeding them, but they were to be used only under the Policy authority of the district. They wore plain clothes but were issued with a steel helmet, special constable's armband and a truncheon. They maintained a military formation and were to have been used in any numbers from a Company down to a Section, as required.

Whatever the organisation, this question of protection either by special constables or by this Civil Constabulary Reserve on a military basis is quite essential to the maintenance of volunteer services against intimidation.

During the week before the strike came about, the Cabinet automatically divided itself into two parts-the one being engaged or interesting itself in negotiation between the owners and the men, and the other being concerned with the means that were being taken to safeguard the country in case the strike came to a head.

The 'negotiating' side consisted of the Prime Minister [2], Steel- Maitland [3], Lane-Fox [4], Birkenhead [5], and to a lesser degree Neville Chamber1ain [6] and L. W. Evans. [7] Cunliffe-Lister [8] stood aside from negotiations because of his private coal interests but was fully occupied with food supplies.

The 'safeguarding' side consisted of Joynson-Hicks [9] (as Chairman), Churchill [10] (who ran the 'British Gazette'), Bridgeman [11], Guinness [12] and the other Ministers.

It turned out that there was not very good liaison between the two sides. There was not any one person who was sufficiently familiar with the course of the negotiations to be able to inform the safeguarding side when the psychological moment had come to put into effect certain measures which, if taken at any other moment, might have proved provocative. The Chairman of the Supply and Transport Committee (Joynson-Hicks) frequently saw the Prime Minister and should have been an adequate liaison.

The question of the aftermath of the strike is one that needs a great deal of skill and tact. The question of reinstatement is a thorny subject. Employers are not always willing to take back all their men. They quite naturally take an upheaval such as this as a good opportunity to eliminate firebrands. Thus there is possibility that the general strike may be followed by a series of individual industrial disputes. The Railway Companies have had a surplus of men since the War and are sharing out the work by suspending the 'Guaranteed Week'. At the moment the Miners' Leaders are bringing pressure on dockers and railwaymen not to handle coal. If the coal strike continues and coal is imported, e.g. from U.S.A., volunteers may again have to be enrolled for unloading at Docks.

1 Letter 69.

2 Stanley Baldwin.

3 Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, Minister of Labour.

4 George Lane-Fox, Minister of Mines.

5 Lord Birkenhead, Secretary for India.

6 Minister of Health.

7 Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, Secretary for War.

8 Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, President of the Board of Trade.

9 Sir William Joynson-Hicks, Home Secretary.

10 Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

11 William Bridgeman, First Lord of the Admiralty.

12 Walter Guinness, Minister of Agriculture.