THE GENERAL STRIKE OF 1842
1980 Lawrence and Wishart
In August 2017, the Rebel Road project of Unite Education successfully helped co-ordinate two public occasions that recalled events in August 1842 in Halifax and Blackburn.
A report from the Halifax meeting on 16 August 2017 can be found here. A review of Catherine Howe’s book on Halifax 1842 can be found here.
The report by the Lancashire Evening Telegraph about the laying of a wreath on 15 August 2017 at the plaque in Blackburn was perhaps not quite as accurate as was hoped but it can be found here.
Further progress is now being made by Councillor Tony Humphrys in getting together all the relevant information he has collected and following which it will, with some financial assistance from a local Unite branch, be published. The aim is then to get someone else locally to take up the search for more information on the dramatic events in Blackburn in August 1842. Blackburn mill operatives had suffered a 50 per cent reduction in their wages in the first half of 1842 and people were starving. Lancashire, where the largest concentration of the country’s industrial workers were based and the industrial revolution was shaped, was the centre of the 1842 General Strike.
Sadly, much of what happened in 1842, when half a million workers, stretching from Dundee to Cornwall, took participated in a strike that linked demands for the People’s Charter http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/rebelroad/murals/ with an end to pay cuts, remains hidden. The best piece of work is that of Mick Jenkins in his book, published in 1980, The General Strike of 1842. This was published by Lawrence and Wishart https://www.lwbooks.co.uk. The book is now out-of-print but is though freely available to be downloaded from a number of sites including https://libcom.org/history/general-strike-1842
There is a highly recommended review of the book at http://www.chartistancestors.co.uk/general-strike-1842/ According to Jenkins the strike “lasted twice the length of the 1926 General Strike, and was the most massive industrial action to take place in Britain – and probably anywhere — in the nineteenth century.”
It was because the strikers took up the political demands espoused by Chartism that there was confrontation not just with employers but with the state.
The strike was eventually lost due to the strength of the ruling class (*) but those who turned-out
were not intimidated. Many marched back with their heads held high and had learnt a great deal
that prepared the ground for the establishment of trade unions over the following decades. The ac
tion had advanced class aims and this is why the orthodox historian has sought to concentrate on
one small aspect of it — the pulling of plugs out of boilers.
* Recognising the need to be seen to make some concessions the ruling class did introduce some
new laws that for the first time ever sought to restrict the power of capital. The 1844 Factory Act
restricted working hours and the 1847 Factory Act further restricted the employer’s ability to utilise
his capital as he saw fit BUT there was no concession on universal suffrage.
See also for an account in Huddersfield