Battle of Lewes Road Part 7
The aftermath of the General Strike in Brighton
The collapse of the General Strike was not expected. Morale was so high and organisation so strong that in some parts of the country, before it was known that the T.U.C. had accepted term tantamount to “unconditional surrender,” demonstrators were organised to celebrate the “Victory.” The men who had sacrificed so much to prove their solidarity with the miners were completely bewildered when it was realised that their heroic stand had brought them defeat.
The employers were not in pressing home their advantage. Many in Brighton saw the act of calling off the strike by the General Council of the T.U.C. as a betrayal. Those who must have felt it most keenly were the strikers who lost their jobs when the management of the local transport companies refused to reinstate them after the strike, one such company was Southdown Motors, when the strikes returning back to work, were told that they must state whether they belonged to a trade union or not. Some of the strikers within Brighton were dismissed by their employers for taking part in the General Strike and were black listed by other employers within the town.
On Wednesday, 12th May, saw Brighton slowly returning back to normal. The strikers were being instructed by their trade unions to return back to work. There was much dissatisfaction amongst the railway men who were amongst one of the main group of workers at the heart of the strike within Brighton and the surrounding area.
On the Thursday morning, a victory parade of mounted specials was assembled outside the flower market, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Scott O’Connor, to receive official recognition from the then Mayor of Brighton, Councillor J. Lord Thompson; which was followed by the mounted specials having a ‘victory’ parade through the streets of Brighton. In the evening a thanksgiving service and a celebration dinner was held, the thanksgiving service was conducted in St. Peter’s Church, concluding with hymns,“Thy hand, O God, has guided” and “Now thank we all our God”. The regular policemen were presented certificates and granted three days leave. These celebrations caused deep resentment amongst the people of Brighton against the police. But during the afternoon, there had come some chastening news. The railwaymen had again ceased work on the issue of reinstatement without victimisation; this stoppage was not supported at national level.
The local authority saw the “Battle of Lewes Road” as having served to crush revolutionary politics in Brighton, while for working-class activists it was celebrated as a day of heroism and martyrdom. Following the events, there was little complaint from workers about the regular police, but much about the allegedly politically-motivated special constables.
The aftermath of the General strike was to be felt for many weeks’ months afterwards. Further repercussions of the General Strike were continually making themselves felt.
On the 2nd June, two engine drivers with many years’ service to their credit were prosecuted by the Southern Railway Company in respect of incidents alleged to have occurred during the General Strike, and both were heavily fined. With General Strike over the Loco-men had to wait another eleven months before they saw the resumption of the Guaranteed Week, which was re-introduced on the April 11th, 1927. Therefore the loco-men carried on receiving a further 11 months of punishment, for their involvement in the General Strike.
The British Government in 1927, passed the Trades Disputes & Trade Union Act., and more commonly known as the “Blacklegs Charter” This act made all sympathetic strikes illegal, ensured the trade union members had to voluntarily ‘contract in’ to pay the political levy, forbade Civil Service unions to affiliate to the T.U.C., and made mass picketing illegal.
Today, we can appreciate the hardship faced by the strikers. It is harder for us to imagine how much terror the strikers instilled in the authorities (the establishment’s fear of ‘mob rule’); the hatred felt by the middle-class, the woman in her sports car or the gentleman farmer, riding into battle in his ‘plus fours’ carrying a club. This was, however, the reality of one of the bitterest confrontations of the whole General Strike and it took place in Brighton.
Many thanks to Paul Edwards
“The Brighton Motive Power Depots” website
Over many years much has been written about the various forms of traction that operated in and around the Brighton area.
But very little has been documented about the footplate-men who actually worked on them.
This web site tries to remedy this as it seeks to explain the history of
Brighton’s Motive Power depots and the creation of the Brighton branch of the train driver’s union,
ASLEF – the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen