Tom Mann

Power Through the General Strike
A Call to Action

Publisher: Co-operative Printing Society, Tudor Street, London
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE cutting down of wages of the workers in all occupations, and in many cases the adding to the working hours, has resulted in lowering the standard of life to such a degree that it has become positively unendurable.

Over a period of some three years, but, especially during the last two, drastic reductions in wages have been enforced on practically all sections of workers, without any corresponding reduction in the cast of living.

When in 1921 the Miners’ Federation was beaten by the mineowners and the Government, by the latter breaking faith with the miners regarding the previous definite undertaking not to resort to the decontrol of the mines till a later period, the rush downward began for all workers.

Transport and other workers, who had agreed to, show common cause with the, miner’s, failed to act, and the boss class, with the aid of the Government, virtually broke up the Miners’ Federation, depriving it of power to function, and the wages of the miner’s were forced down so low that in many cases they have had to resort to supplementary help under the Poor Law to maintain themselves in a fit state to work.

The Reason

There was ONE PLAIN, SIMPLE REASON why the miners failed. It was entirely due to the LACK OF SOLIDARITY on the part fellow workers in other occupations.

In 1922 the organised employers in the engineering industry turned their forces on the men, demanding sweeping reductions in wages, and after a 13 weeks’ lockout the 52 unions directly involved accepted the terms of the boss class. There was one plain reason as to why the engineers failed to resist the onslaught of the bosses: it was in the simple fact that there was NO WORKING-CLASS SOLIDARITY, not even amongst the unions directly affected, and never an attempt made to secure common cause on the part of all organised workers. The building trade workers received attention at the hands of they bosses, and again the building trade worker’s were left to handle the case themselves, demonstrating once more that the Trade Unions as they function at present are not comparable with a well-organised army, but rather with groups and sections of inexperienced men unable to learn and apply the lessons taught by the opposing class.

Machine Production

The power to produce the requisites of life is far greater now than, ever before.

In coal mines, mechanical coal cutters, and conveyor’s are being rapidly applied which doubles the output per man.

In engineering, machine tools make it possible for one man to do as much work as formerly required ten men, thus reducing the cost of production. In steel works machinery has reduced the number of men by one-half, so reducing the cost of production, and notwithstanding this ever-increasing efficiency the employing class demand that wages shall be reduced and working hours increased.

Fortunately science and invention are making it possible to produce every requisite with ever-increasing efficiency.

One Penny Farthing per Meal

Think of all this, and let the mind dwell upon the settlement of the Norfolk farm labourers, who are to receive 25s, for a full week’s work. At a minimum estimate for rent, fuel, and light quite 7s. is required per week, leaving 18s. For an ordinary sized family of six persons for clothing and boots the very lowest estimate requires 5s. as week leaving 13s., less club and union and insurance, payment, another 1s. minimum, leaving 12s. upon which to feed a family of six, or LESS THAN A PENNY FARTHING PER MEAL PER PERSON, the father and mother included.

Such is the outcome of the capitalist control of industry; resulting in one and a-half millions of unemployed, who, with their families, number over four millions of persons.

Think of the waste of human energy and the decreasing efficiency that must characterise those who are in enforced idleness for long spells, and many of those now out. Young men of 30 to 35 year’s of age have been out 18 months to two years.

Nature not Niggardly

Raw material exists in abundance, human energy and skill is here in abundance, the genuine desire for useful articles of all kinds exists in every home, and under capitalist control of industry it is impossible to bring these together, and, to stave off revolutionary fervour, unemployed doles are paid, the last evidence of capitalist incapacity. Never in human history have there been any such utterly incompetent and humiliating conditions as these under which we are now existing. Production takes place that the necessary consumption of things produced may follow. The workers require to consume, and they are ready and anxious to produce, but the curse of capitalist control for profit hangs ever over us, and such is the capitalists’ utter incapacity or bulldozed unwillingness, that, although their capitalist gains depend upon a large consumption, they habitually strive to keep down the workers’ opportunities to consume, even though the result is a speedier market glut and more complete industrial stagnation.

What may we hope from Parliament?

In discussing the line of policy to be pursued to bring about a drastic change for the better, let us first consider what we may hope for from Parliamentary action.

We occupy no dog-in-the-manger attitude in this matter; for myself I am very glad to see the substantial improvement in the number of Labour men and fighting ability in Parliament, as compared with any previous Parliament. What may we hope for in the matter of definite capable action, insisting upon and forcing a change of conditions equal to the absorption of the unemployed, the stopping of the lowering of the workers’ standard, and capable battling for obtaining a substantial increase in the purchasing power of wages?

With the 146 Labour Member’s, even if there should be several additions to their number, giving full credit to each of them as being anxious to be of real service in absorbing, unemployed and generally raising the standard of the workers, can any person believe that any real change worth talking about is likely to result from any speeches delivered or action taken in Parliament? Already excellent speeches have been delivered and courageous spirit shown, but who can express satisfaction at the result?

Don’t expect figs off Thistles

I am not belittling Parliamentary effort; the point I am making is that, under existing conditions, the dominant plutocracy will not attempt any reconstructive policy as the result of speeches made.

Are Union Executives to be relied upon?

Again, when we turn to the unions, roughly six million members, are there any grounds for believing that if we carry resolutions demanding attention to unemployment and the raising of the workers’ standard, and send these to the union Executives—are there grounds four believing that the necessary action will be taken to force something of a really helpful character to be done? All men of experience know full well that THERE IS NO HOPE WHATEVER THAT ANYTHING WILL BE DONE by relying upon union Executives. Indeed, the more, correct way to put it would be that we know perfectly well the union Executives would rather prevent anything from being achieved outside of the routine grooves they are accustomed to.


THE WORKERS NEED THE POWER to make their wishes respected by the capitalist class. So long as the workers continue every hour of every day to render every useful service to individual members of the capitalist class, feeding them, clothing them, transporting them, entertaining them, furnishing them with every luxury, and obeying their every wish and whim, the haughty plutocracy will continue to ignore or to heap insult upon the workers, and they will condemn to starvation-conditions the millions they fail to make any provision for.

The CURE for this lies with the RANK AND FILE of the working class; THAT CURE IS THE REFUSAL TO RENDER SERVICES TO THE BOSS CLASS, the absolute refusal to function as obedient slaves administering for ever to their insolent requirements. In short, it can be met thoroughly by means of a GENERAL STRIKE, for as long or short a period or periods as may prove to be necessary.

There are quite as good reasons why the workers of Britain should resort to a general strike, as ever there was for the Israelites in Egypt to strike against Pharaoh and the Egyptian Government.

Sabotage by the Israelites

The Jews not only refused to function as workers to obey the arrogant instructions of the slave-driving Egyptians, but they made the water undrinkable and encouraged frogs by the million, and the conditions brought lice by the million million, and the consequent lack of sanitary conditions produced flies in myriads of swarms, the cattle died of diseases, and the people were afflicted with boils and sores, and many other things of a far from pleasant character, and all this because of the stubbornness of the Egyptian plutocracy, who, after all, were not a patch on the British plutocracy.

Let us, then, of the rank and file, get a move on quick; our caste is infinitely more urgent than that of the Israelites referred to —in any case, let us show we can appreciate the sensible lesson from the Bible and ourselves take pattern by it.

No Strike Pay Wanted

It may be said that a general strike will hurt the workers more than the boss class. Nothing of the kind. A long stoppage is not advised; a series of short stoppages is what is required. Series nothing longer than three days, and therefore there will beg no question of strike pay from unions. Probably one day would be ample, at any rate for a start, and a few weeks after another day, or half-a-day, according to requirements.

Discipline and Solidarity

It is a case of disciplining ourselves and demonstrating to each other that we know what we are about, and dare take action on the lines stated, and openly avow that we do it in order to interfere with the smug comfort and indifferent arrogance of capitalism. To attempt to go into detail as to how far we should go and just what we should do would be stupid. That’s for a later date, but nothing in the nature of resistance to authority is entertained. This would be silly, so it must not be done. On the contrary, let us undertake to be entirely averse to conflicts with authorities or forces under their direction. Let us stay at home and play with the kids. It will make the bosses feel it where they are sensitive, and the rest will follow.

I therefore definitely recommend and strongly advise that all prepare at once for a GENERAL STRIKE—meaning down tools in Britain—not in order to realise the social revolution—we are not yet ready for that—but to get measure of control over industry, to INSIST UPON THE UNEMPLOYED BEING ABSORBED into the ranks of the employed. Government and bosses will find it necessary to get busy, because if they don’t do what is demanded we will land them again when they don’t expect it, and still again if necessary.

This will necessitate a vigorous and tactful propagandist campaign.

Get to Business

Begin at once, and give no grounds for the authorities to interfere, but get busy with your own pals, and in every union branch and on every Trades Council see to it that a GENERAL STRIKE resolution is carried, and that a committee is formed to carry on the work in the district, and to get in touch with all other committees. We must have a Central Committee, and we must have a District Committee in every district, and form a complete network of such committees over the country.

We intend to issue a series of these pamphlets. Probably the next will be entitled “Forging the Weapon,” written by J. D. Lawrence, of the A.E.U., Woolwich, an ardent advocate of the GENERAL STRIKE and a man of ripe experience.

See the certain results of the proposed policy: inconvenience to bosses, to Government, and to the general public, resulting in recognition of the necessity for giving attention to our demands.

Who are the Public?

Some will say “It is a great pity it should affect the public.” To which we reply that the four millions of unemployed and their dependents are part of the public; that the 20 millions of underpaid and their dependents, are part of the public, that 95 per cent. of the total community are identified with those who work for a living, and therefore are workers whose conditions require bettering, and the other 5 per cent., not being workers, are just the ones it is necessary should feel the draught when the workers decline to help there on with their clothes.

COMRADES, it is militancy that is called far in the movement; the silly kids’ game of negotiating, and arbitrating, and finnicking with Industrial Councils all operate in one way, to lower the workers’ standard. This must be stopped and at once. Here are 40,000 members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union mooning about as unemployed, too dirt cheap to be worth anybody’s money, and themselves without a shilling in their pocket. Is that to last? And, if not, who is to cure it? Buck up, boys, there are millions already favourable to action as here advised, and we can soon get millions more.

Miners and engineers, builders and transport workers, textile workers of all grades, general workers of all kinds, let us now dare to shape on lines that give the greatest promise of something tangible being accomplished.


This should be your affair as much as anyone’s. Don’t be content to demand work or maintenance; let us get that measure of industrial control the total number to do it. Let us refuse to tacitly fall in with a system that shut out millions from the opportunity of functioning healthily. Prepare to get a greater grip. The plutes have had their innings; THE TIME FOR A CHANGE HAS COME. We demand and insist upon such a change as here described, not as a final, but as a practical step to solid betterment on lines that will make for the uplifting of our class. We are not for appealing to the charity of a master class, but demand such changes in the system as will admit of ourselves and wives and children participating in the affairs of life, not as things to be tolerated, but as citizens sharing responsibilities and sharing in sanctions. “Now’s the day and now’s the hour.” Don’t put this aside without resolving to do your share towards making the movement what it should be. I’m an INTERNATIONALIST, but I want this nation to demonstrate its capacity and disposition to get at grips with fundamentals, and to do what intelligent men should now be equal to, getting a real control of at least some of the phases of production, and refusing to acquiesce in a system that bars millions of our fellows from a reasonable share in the products of well regulated labour.

This is the Time for Action

There are suitable times for certain action as also, there are unsuitable. The present is a suitable time for resorting to DIRECT ACTION on the lines referred to, because the limit of endurance has been reached, as shown by the attitude of the men who in the unions and elsewhere express themselves with emphasis and determination respecting their present position. Further, those who may have expected militant action from union Executives see too clearly there is no hope for this. And, again, in a number of recent instances exceptional courage to face awkward consequences has been shown by those who defiantly refuse to agree with employers to submit to further reductions.

Industrial Unionism

Further, there is a hopeful sign in the genuine efforts now being made to unite sectional organisations, and form up on the lines of industrial unionism. All such are likely to be in full sympathy with the general strike, and we stand unmistakably for industrial unionism. Indeed, the two movements can run together in double harness.

A few weeks ago I was at a meeting at Ardwick (Manchester), organised by the Engineering and Shipbuilding Industrial Unionist Group. They are carrying on a most successful propagandist campaign, and deserve, and I believe will meet with, great and real success. I should like to learn that this movement spreads all over the country, that we may get rid of the 1,100 separate unions still existing, and have one for each industry only, properly departmentalised.

Avoid a Trade Union Bureaucracy

Great care must be taken in bringing into existence an industrial union to guard against an official bureaucracy. Official is, the curse of the workers’ movement, and unless there is as live, healthy spirit in the rank and file, making healthy mass action possible, there is danger of a centralised official movement that will be a hindrance to progress.

RANK AND FILE MASS ACTION is what must be encouraged and resorted to whenever necessary.

From many officials, as the time approaches for the general strike, we shall get systematic and stubborn opposition. This matters little if the rank and file are clear minded, and after what has happened in recent years it must be the case that there is already a good 20 per cent. in the Trade Union movement, clear-minded and courageous fellows, ready for militant action on rank-and-file lines.

Nothing said here aims at antagonism with officialdom. If the officials will identify themselves with the policy initiated and backed by the rank and file, and if union Executives are prepared to endorse the general strike and fairly work for its success that will be all to the good, but with the Executives or without there IT MUST COME OFF.

Croakers and Dismal Johnnies

We must expect the usual croakers to cry out against any form of DIRECT ACTION; these dismal disciples of the “law and order” variety may be ignored as of no consequence. After allowing for all such there will still be enough to take the work in hand and achieve success.

Recently I have addressed twenty public meetings, same in London, others in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Co. Durham. At each of these meetings a resolution has been submitted on lines with the policy advocated in this pamphlet, including an endorsement of the general strike and determination to participate therein. In every case the resolution has been carried by a not less than 98 per cent. majority.

Several Trades Councils now have the matter before them, and in a short time we shall have the GENERAL STRIKE CAMPAIGN going in great style. I appeal to the young men in particular to get busy at once in this matter; you at any rate should not hesitate. Do not allow your lives to be wasted by the pettifogging methods that prevail to-day. “The world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open.” If that isn’t literally true in your case it is true that you with your colleagues can refuse to exist as the generation have done to which the writer belongs. The workers are entitled to as good a standard of life as they are prepared to fight and work for, and that should not include either poverty or enforced idleness. Let us then join in this glorious crusade against poverty and its causes. THE CONTROL OF INDUSTRY BY THE WORKERS, including the complete control of the products of industry, and the full administration and management of them, that is our objective. As the chief instrument to enable us to reach that, we enthusiastically declare for THE GENERAL STRIKE.







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