Memorandum on the General Strike by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL794
[May 1926]

A. On the whole I am with the miners in this dispute.  I think the owners are incompetent (I hear that the best owners are not in the association and do not take part in the negotiations).  I think Baldwin1 was wrong to stop negotiations on account of the D.M.2 episode however much provocation he had and even if the T.U.C.3 did break faith - because the welfare of the country is more important than the morals of the T.U.C.
I mistrust the Churchill - Birkenhead4 gang in the cabinet & think the attitude of the govt is largely theirs - and the beastly rag the National Gazette which is trying to inflame evil passions is theirs also.
I think it quite possible that a section of the party will want to be vindictive if the strike continues long and is then broken & will want to reduce wages all round.
Also this is developing into a class war & I don’t feel at all inclined to side with my own class (though I suppose that at a pinch I should)

B. Isn’t our duty to support the govt as such even if in the end it has to resort to armed force?  Is it wrong to be on the side of revolution if it came to that?  I should not be against revolution by violence in the last resort (I don’t think the status quo any thing to be proud of) But before I cd do that & envisage the temporary anarchy which would follow I must be fairly certain that a better state of things is going to emerge.  And have the side of revolution any scheme for the better government of the country to offer if they were victorious?  I doubt it.
Is it not in that case our duty to support the govt (however much one dislikes it) and in that case one must go the whole hog & if the govt find it necessary to shoot to go & shoot with them: 
This brings me to C.

C.  Much as I dislike the govt I mistrust the labour leaders also MacDonald5 is an unpractical sentimentalist & Cook6 is an empty wind-bag - & moreover he and many of his colleagues are the paid agents of Trade Unions & are afraid of losing their jobs if they are not continually “asking for more”  I think the TUC made a great mistake in refusing to budge even a nominal inch in the negotiations
Also I believe there is some truth in the talk of trade union tyranny, & I think that “Ca’ Canny” is contemptible.7

D. I hate the O.M.S. - it accents the class war side.8
But I cannot deny the right of an Oxford undergraduate to go and unload fish if the man whose job it is refuses to do so.  Also I cannot deny the duty of the govt to see that people do not starve if the food is to be had.
Now what is one to do?
The simplest thing for a man of my age is to do nothing.
But one cannot help benefiting by the govt action - one is powerless to refuse the benefits - If one accepts the benefits must not one support the organization which provides them.  Once again I don’t believe in half hogs in this matter.


1. Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister.
2. The compositors at the Daily Mail had refused to set the paper because of a government advertisement appealing for volunteers to assist against the strike.
3. Trades Union Congress
4. Winston Churchill and Lord Birkenhead
5. Ramsay MacDonald, leader of the Labour Party.
6. Arthur James Cook was General Secretary of the Miners' Federation
7. "Ca canny" was a Scots expression meaning go cautiously or 'g oslow'; in this context the practice of deliberately reducing output at work.
8. Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, a right-wing movement organised to provide volunteers in the event of a general strike.

Subjects:

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/7, ff.7-10
General notes: 

This note setting out his personal dilemma was in UVW’s file for 1926 and is summed up by her: ‘... he was deeply troubled by the political situation and he was in doubt as to what part, if any, he should take when the strike happened’ (R.V.W.: a biography, p.162).

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 155
Original database number: 
2605xa