Moving Stories - Workshops and Performance

1920s and the General Strike

Working on the railways in the 1920s was a well respected job for drivers, firemen, cleaners, signalmen, shunters, guards, porters and railway clerks. Most railway workers were extremely loyal to their companies and some regarded their pay as fairly high in comparison to other jobs.


However, working on the railways was often very dangerous, especially the lower grade jobs such as shunting which involved standing between carriages and connecting them, with the potential threat of being trapped or squashed. Whilst the eight hour day improved working conditions to some extent, some felt that they had to take on overtime, night work or Sunday duty to earn enough money.


When the 'Big Four' railway companies were formed in 1923, workers also received a wage cut to support the restructure and many drivers and firemen were demoted to lower levels as there was less need for them.


However, the railway companies continued to transport large numbers of people across the country - to and from work, to seaside holiday resorts, up and down the country - and even provided links with ports and destinations abroad, offering special incentives to attract more passengers. Service was as normal until May 1926 when all transport workers and tradesmen suddenly stopped work...


When miners were again threatened with pay cuts and extended hours of work, nearly all Railwaymen and Dockers joined them on a national strike. Although their pay and hours was not under immediate threat, it was feared that they would be targeted next.

For nine days the strikers remained united refusing to go to work.


Not everyone went on strike though and those that continued working were known as ‘blacklegs’ or ‘scabs.’ This caused a lot of tension between colleagues due to feelings of betrayal.

Document icon Learning article provided by: National Railway Museum | 
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