Global audience for Diamond Jubilee Professor

Tue, 22 May 2012 11:24:00 BST

BBC World Service listeners hear the background to Britain’s General Strike

Image of Keith Laybourn

A UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield professor has lectured millions of listeners around the world on the subject of Britain’s General Strike of 1926.

The BBC World Service – which reaches global audiences of up to 43 million – dealt with the strike in its strand entitled ‘Witness’.  It was framed around the contribution of 106-year-old Londoner Hetty Bower who, as a young member of the Independent Labour Party, helped to feed strikers on the picket line in 1926.

The historical content and analysis of the programme was supplied by University of Huddersfield historian Professor Keith Laybourn (pictured), author of two books on the General Strike.  The dispute was called by a reluctant TUC in support of miners who were being forced to take pay cuts and work longer hours.

“The purpose of the strike was to force the Government to reopen negotiations,” Professor Laybourn told World Service listeners.  “One way of doing that was to stop the movement of important supplies.  By and large the idea was to control the movement of food.”

Image of Keith Laybourn's General Strike book

The Government was fearful that the strike would lead to a communist uprising.

“But there was never going to be a revolution!” said Professor Laybourn.  “The Government had soldiers in readiness, and a couple of destroyers off Liverpool.  There was never any danger of the Government losing control of the dispute.”

The General Strike was sometimes described as “cloth caps versus the debutante set,” added Professor Laybourn, who told listeners of the wealthy Cambridge students whose chauffeurs took them in Bentleys and Rolls Royces to Dover Docks, where they volunteered to unload ships.

The TUC – having spent £27 million in a few days – was on the verge of running out of money to fund the strike and at a meeting with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin on 11 May, the General Strike was called off, although the miners stayed out until November.

Keith Laybourn, a professor of history since 1991, was recently appointed the University of Huddersfield’s inaugural Diamond Jubilee Professor. 

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