A lark for the sake of their country

The 1926 General Strike volunteers in folklore and memory

Rachelle Hope Saltzman
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The 1926 General Strike lasted officially from midnight on 3 May until 12 May. Over the course of nine days, four million workers came out in sympathy with coal miners, who were protesting against attempts by mine owners and managers to reduce wages and lengthen hours. The General Strike was not merely evidence of class divisions and a postwar society in transition; the event and its participants have become national folk symbols for Britishness. The university lads, society women, Bright Young People, and businessmen who served as volunteers did not regard their acts as motivated by class divisions but fuelled by a desire to keep their country moving. Clearly, volunteering was an adventure, a way of making oneself important to the community at large. But it was also an act limited to those of a certain age and socio-economic status, those who had both the leisure and few responsibilities to others. The very nature of the activities required of volunteers restricted who could or could not join up. Furthermore, the semi-official nature of the organization of the call-up dictated that the more desirable jobs would go to those of higher social status. The defining features of the General Strike were its good humour and the ways in which all involved used a variety of comic forms of speech and behaviour to frame the event and express particular visions of the national community.

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