“The general strike, despite its brevity, was to assume a major importance in British labour history” (Kiernan, 1986). Kiernan’s mention of the brevity of the strike is mirrored by Todd in the brevity of which he mentions the strike. He dedicates just two pages of his memoir to a discussion of the strike and makes no mention of any political viewpoints, perspectives or opinions on the politics of the strike. He chooses, in keeping with the memoir, to focus almost entirely on the effect that it had on the stonemason and the masonry industry.
Although the General Strike did not largely involve the masonry industry, it did affect it in a big way. As Todd tells us, “During the general strike, the yards were virtually closed.” The absence of work during the strike forced Todd and other Masons to give up on work for the time being and head home.
The travelling occurred via the odd train that Todd tells us no one knew the destination of. Bursting at the seams, the train would set off and the men aboard just hoped it would be heading somewhere of use to them. Todd himself landed a six mile walk away from home with the train stopping for the day at Guildford and was “content to take a holiday until the men went back to work.”
The general strike is as close to political discussion that Todd gets in his memoir, rarely breaking face of being a writer concerned wholly and only with his working exploits. This small tangent does however give us some historical context surrounding a memoir that has left little in the way of context to frame it for readers. It represents one of the few times that Todd breaks away from discussion of actual work and, in that sense, and with it coming around the half way point of the narrative, it provides a break in the memoir.
Todd’s relative silence concerning the political endeavors of the working class in their strike action might be somewhat telling of his own political position, or absence of it. Political identity doesn’t seem to be of much importance to Todd in his writing. Whether that was the case for the man himself and he made a conscious decision to omit these details, we cannot know. But by its omission we cannot assess any political motivation or identity surrounding Todd’s memoir. Comments on the inclusive and exclusive nature of politics are hard to make regarding Todd’s memoir, however, you can’t help but feel, at the risk of generalizing, that the modern working-class worker usually had more to say regarding politics.
For anyone interested in reading up on the General Strike, The National Archives website, from which the image is borrowed, is a great place to go.
‘A.W. Todd’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:1030
Kiernan, Eugine, ‘Drogheda and The British General Strike’, 1926, Saothar, Vol. 11 (1986), pp. 19-26