Monday, 27 January 2020

Book Review - Nine Days That Shook Mansfield (2006)

Barry Johnson, Nine Days That Shook Mansfield
Written By: Keith Flett
Date: January 2006
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 26: Lent 2006 

Barry Johnson. Nine Days That Shook Mansfield (The Ragged Historians, 2003)
ISBN: 0955151805

The 80th anniversary of the 1926 General Strike is upon us and Barry Johnson's new short study of the impact of the strike in Mansfield and surrounding areas is welcome.

Writing with a background of trade union activism, but with a cautious and rigorous approach to the historical evidence, Johnson is able to demonstrate that while the area may be remembered for the breakaway from the Miners Federation of the scab Spencer union in fact in 1926 it had a very high level of support for the strike.

While Johnson rightly focuses on the events of the General Strike itself, flagging up issues along the way for further research, he situates these events firmly in the context of the balance of forces between the ruling class and working class in Mansfield. This is a welcome approach, but one not often followed by labour historians. He describes the organisational preparations made by the local State for the Strike and contrasts this with those made by the labour movement, which remained, until the last minute largely at the level of propaganda.

The Labour Party, primarily even then, an electoral machine, the ILP and the CPGB were all active in Mansfield in 1926. A key local feature was the presence of leading women Communist Rose Smith who played a key role in drawing women into support for the strike. Johnson gives an account of this but seems unaware of how unusual it was at the time.

Johnson is able to point out a number of weaknesses in existing references to the General Strike in Mansfield, particularly in respect of the total support it received from the labour movement and in the role that the Trades Council played in organising it. He has been able to base his accounts on Trades Council records.

The key features of the strike in May 1926 in Mansfield seem to have been battles to stop buses running and the fight for relief for those who were on strike.

In a final chapter Johnson also covers off some of the aftermath of the strike with the victimisation of militants, and some who were simply loyal union members.

While the book rightly stays focused on the General Strike some wider historical questions are raised. Why did this area, solid in the Strike, see the development of the breakaway Spencer Union? Another issue is the impact of the Communist Party. Unlike some areas it appears to have had little base in the mines, but would a stronger local organisation have led to different outcomes following the end of the dispute?

While there are a number of accounts of the 1926 General Strike, and many references to how it played out locally, in depth local studies of what happened in particular towns are rare, perhaps in part due to lack of evidence. If Johnson's well researched and highly readable account sparks off some more in the 80th anniversary year it will have been work well done.

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