It is rare to come across a book as truly pioneering as Industrial Politics and the 1926 Mining Lockout , but this collection is the first serious academic attempt to address the events of the seven-month lockout that led to the nine-day General Strike of 1926. Although several of its essays try to locate the lockout within the context of the 1984-85 strike, the main focus is the much neglected history of the 1926 events.
All the contributions are good, and some are ground-breaking. In a trailblazing essay, "Class warriors: The coal owners", Quentin Outram examines the industrial approaches of the mining barons, who ranged from paternalist landowners and the "Mond Group" to competitive capitalists represented by the Mining Association of Great Britain, whose aggressive cost-cutting approach dominated. John McIlroy and Alan Campbell's "Fighting the legions of hell" is a powerful analytical narrative that examines the rival claims and approaches of protagonists and probes the vital roles of individuals in sustaining the lockout even when the defeat of the miners seemed likely.
The regional studies by McIlroy (South Wales and Nottingham), Keith Gildart (North Wales), Alan Campbell (Scotland) and Stephen Catterall (Lancashire) are powerful reminders of the internal differences within, as well as between, coal districts. The studies vary markedly between Catterall's matter-of-fact style and McIlroy's almost lyrical look at South Wales, but all establish the need to examine the detail of economy, religion and locality in weaving the industrial response of different mining areas.
The book is completed by three essays and a finale. Sue Bruley offers a study of South Wales women in the lockout. They did much to maintain the spirit of the mining community, but they did not raise the issue of sexism as the Women against Pit Closures movement did in 1984-85. Catterall's essay on the police notes that as troops were not used in the lockout, new policies, organisational strategies and tactics emerged. McIlroy considers the Communist Party's role in the lockout. He suggests that despite its spirit, organisation and obduracy, it was never a real force - its "narrowness, dogma, rigidity and Russian politics excluded it from serious consideration as an alternative" to the Labour Party.
McIlroy's finale looks beyond the strike to the events of 1984, ending with the hope that although the miners' power and influence is gone, the spirit of the past might inspire new generations to collective action.
This book is essential for anyone interested in Britain's 20th-century industrial politics, but, at £45, it will bought by libraries rather than by individuals. That is a shame. It should be published in paperback urgently.
Keith Laybourn is professor of history, Huddersfield University.
Industrial Politics and the 1926 Mining Lockout: The Struggle for Dignity
Editor - John McIlroy, Alan Campbell and Keith Gildart
Publisher - University of Wales Press
Pages - 334
Price - £45.00
ISBN - 0 7083 1820 7